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The Original People:

The Story of the Lenape Indians

by Chief Quiet Thunder and Greg Vizzi

The Original People book cover illustrationThe Original People book cover illustration

 

 

 

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Greg Vizzi has collaborated with Richard “Quiet Thunder” Gilbert to produce a book about the Lenni Lenape Indians. It's called: The Original People, The Story of The Lenape Indians.

Chief Quiet Thunder describing his medicine bag at a school jamboreeChief Quiet Thunder describing his medicine bag at a school jamboree

The Lenape's were one of the first Indian tribes to make contact with the Europeans. The Treaty of Peace and Brotherhood was made between William Penn and the Lenape Indians. This was a verbal treaty and the first one between the colonists and the Indians in North America.

Quiet Thunder is a Native American elder from Woodbury, New Jersey and a chief of the Lenni Lenape tribe. He is a traditional Indian, but happy to share his culture with audiences of all ages. He gives many presentations in the schools and other venues for the general public.

The Original People is based on many hours of video and audio interviews, recorded conversations and stories by the chief. The book is written for the most part, in his own words and point of view. He speaks about the Lenape Indian culture and traditions. He tells personal stories of his life growing up and how he became an educator, teaching people about his culture and traditions.

He brings dozens of hand-crafted cultural items to his programs and if you attend you may get to hold a stone ax, arrow or bone knife made by the chief. Quiet Thunder infuses his talks with colorful scenes from the past as he takes you on a journey to America before European contact. His audiences are often held spellbound by his stories. His classroom presentations are very "hands on" for the children. He engages the very young by giving them drums and rattles to play and puts animal skins on the "hunters" as if they are members of the tribe.

Quiet Thunder began giving presentations to the public over thirty years ago. Because of his authentic presentations and deep understanding of his tribe's traditional past, he is in great demand in many school systems, nature centers, historical societies, museums and other venues in  Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Southern New Jersey. Lacrosse, a Native American sport, which also served to settle disputes between tribesLacrosse, a Native American sport, which also served to settle disputes between tribes

Excerpt from the introduction to The Original People and The Seventh Generation by Chief Quiet Thunder:

“I am fortunate to know many of the traditional ways of the Lenni-Lenape. The name Lenni-Lenape means “Original People.” For many years I have talked to groups in schools, churches, parks and other public settings. I decided I wanted to get down in writing the stories and history that I’ve shared verbally over the years.  My original goal was to pass on to my children and grandchildren the important spiritual beliefs of their ancestors and help them remember me. If I can also help other people gain a better understanding of the native people of North America, then this book will exceed my goals.

Mother Earth is the giver of life and the protector of the spirit after life, for all people, not just the Indian people. We have a sacred obligation to protect the earth, and to learn to live in harmony with the earth. The Indian people of North America were forced to give up their religion and way of life for many years, to the point where much has been lost. I developed my beliefs through time spent in the wild, talking to elders and maintaining the traditional ways.

Beyond giving my children something to hold onto when I am gone, I want to help keep traditional Indian spirituality alive by teaching Indians who have lost touch with the past, and non-Indians who can use these ideas to strengthen their own lives in the modern world. The Lenape believed that each person makes their own connection and establishes their own spiritual beliefs, using the beliefs of their ancestors as a starting point.

This book combines an oral history of my people, their way of life and spirituality. It also contains some of my personal life story and beliefs as a Native American in the modern world. I believe the Creator has selected me to express and teach these ideas and ways of life, not only for Indian people, but also for all people willing to listen. I have seen that people are becoming more receptive. They are seeing that there needs to be more to life, and that they can learn by looking at how others have lived on this earth. In my presentations I try to do more than simply entertain people with colorful outfits and trinkets. I try to pass on ideas that meant something to my family and my ancestors, ideas that still have significance today.”

Short clip of a presentation by Chief Quiet Thunder at
the Atlantic City Lighthouse on November 14, 2010.

A Lenape "hunter' shooting an arrowA Lenape "hunter' shooting an arrow


Excerpt from the preface for The Original People by Greg Vizzi:

“Like many kids growing up in the nineteen fifties and sixties, I spent a lot of my time outdoors. As an outdoors kid, I wandered the backwoods, fields and streams of Southern New Jersey. I canoed and camped in the Pine Barrens, the largest wilderness area on the east coast. In my explorations, I discovered a mystery: I found arrowheads, spearheads and other primitive tools, as well as broken pottery, evidence of an ancient people. I wondered who they were, how they lived and what happened to them.

I think it was in 1986 when I first attended the Columbus Day Festival at the Rankokus Indian Reservation near Mt. Holly, New Jersey. Richard “Quiet Thunder” Gilbert, a Lenape Indian was giving a presentation. He had reconstructed a village setting in a field along a wooded area. His display consisted of many animal pelts stretched on wood frames with dozens of beautiful bone and stone tools, painted drums and other handcrafted items he had made. Behind him was a wooden canoe he had carved from the trunk of a tree. Growing up, my heroes were the American Indians: master woodsmen who lived as free men and called the wilderness their home. We all assumed the Lenape Indians were long gone, and I was excited to realize that there before me was a living Lenape Indian who was born and raised in New Jersey not far from where I grew up! His ancestors made the very artifacts I had found in my explorations.

He gestured and spoke in a soft, relaxed tone. As I listened to his stories, answers to those questions from my youth began to unfold. We have kept in touch over the years and became good friends. The peace-loving Lenape people had a unique culture and lifestyle because of the geographical conditions around them and thrived in ancient times in our most densely populated state and surrounding areas."

Excerpt from the preface for The Original People by Marcia Adams:

“Quiet Thunder has kept the original beliefs of his people and has not sacrificed his heritage to peer pressure. The message of his people comes at you straight from his heart. In his own words he “prefers not to dwell on the murky past” but rather to explain and perhaps dispel centuries of misconceptions about their customs, culture and religion.

Soft-spoken and unassuming, he brings to his program hundreds of handmade artifacts, which he hauls in and out of his pickup truck. Children and adults linger after his program offering to help him load up his truck to spend a few more minutes with this very special person. The Chief admits that at some gatherings there will be a skeptic or two in the audience, but his tactfulness and delightful sense of humor can diffuse any challenge made upon him. Even outdoor sportsmen who fiercely defend their right to “Enjoy the thrill of the hunt” have done some re-thinking after hearing the Chief speak. His ability to laugh at life and even at himself is indeed a rare quality. When asked if he had ever killed a cowboy his reply was, “John Wayne gave us a lot of trouble.”

Highly acclaimed by the Delaware Teachers Association and the New Jersey educational system, his program has been adopted as a part of their school curriculum. His list of accomplishments, awards and appearances are far too many to include here. But just as an example, when he was invited to speak before the United Nations on “International Cultures,” he received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his presentation. He has taught first graders in the elementary schools and graduate students at universities. Hundreds of school children have written him letters of thanks for coming to their schools, promising him that they will remember what he taught them for the rest of their lives.”

Handcrafted cultural itemsHandcrafted cultural items
The idea for this book first came from Marcia Adams, a historian from Delaware who recorded and transcribed some stories from Quiet Thunder. After beginning the project, she was called to other commitments, so I continued the project. I believe strongly that this is an important story to be shared and feel priveliged to bring it to a wider audience and the world at large. I have transcribed and compiled well over a hundred hours of the spoken recordings of the chief, and with great care, converted his spoken word to the written page, preserving his voice. The manuscript has been carefully reviewed and approved by the chief. This project has been over seven years in the making, and has resulted in two books about the Lenape Indians: The Original People, and The Seventh Generation. There are many topics covered, some of which are listed below.

Contents: The Original People

Chapter 1: Growing Up
Childhood experiences. Learning to fish, trap and hunt to put food on the table.

Chapter 2: In The Beginning: An Introduction to The People
A short overview of Lenape and Indian culture.

Chapter 3: The Natural World
Learning patience as a boy and observations of nature. The balance of nature. Learning to track and stalk. Fishing and hunting stories.

Chapter 4: Customs and Culture: Past and Present
Traditional village life. Seasons and Ceremonies. Religious beliefs. Trade. Tribal stories.

Chapter 5: It’s Their World We Are Leaving Them
Teaching beyond the tribe. A fun way to teach. Oral history and storytelling. The importance of teachers.

Chapter 6: Ancient Laws
Universal tribal laws. Bringing the eagle back. Indians' relationship to the land. Our power to destroy or protect.

Chapter 7: What’s In The Future?
Life as it was in the past. The importance of water. Keeping traditional ways. Protecting the earth.

The Original People was published as an ebook for kindle on November 29, 2014. The illustrated print version will be published in the near future. A percentage of book royalties will be donated to the Children of The Earth Foundation and the Wilderness Awareness School. Please sign up for our free newsletter to receive book notifications and updates, interesting articles about nature and free photos.  Thanks for your interest!

- Greg Vizzi

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