About the Exhibit
Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania is a fully collaborative exhibition, organized by the Penn Museum and the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania. Curated by Chief Robert Red Hawk Ruth and Shelley DePaul, both of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, and University of Pennsylvania graduate student Abigail Seldin, the exhibition draws from oral histories, family heirlooms, and photographs, as well as archaeology, historical and ethnographic research.
The genesis of the exhibit was a project undertaken by Abigail Seldin in 2006-2007 as part of the Penn Museum's Research Experience for Undergraduates program "Native Voices (see Expedition 49(3):30-35). The exhibit's earliest plans called for a broad treatment of the trek of the Lenape people from Pennsylvania to their current locations in Canada, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The focus of the project changed dramatically, however, when Seldin joined Curator Robert Preucel, Keeper Lucy Fowler Williams, and Associate Keeper William Wierzbowski of the Museum's American Section to bring a traditional Lenape paddle to a Maple Ceremony being held in the Pocono Mountains by the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania—a community formed by Lenape descendants who remained in Pennsylvania.
While at the Maple Ceremony, members of the Lenape Nation began to tell Seldin their history. While the stories of the Lenape people who left Pennsylvania in the 18th century are of undeniable importance, it soon became apparent that the community here in Pennsylvania had an interest in working with the Museum to tell their own extraordinary story. Several weeks later, Seldin met with the Tribal Council, which gave its blessing to the exhibition. Chief Robert Red Hawk Ruth and Shelley DePaul, then Tribal Secretary, joined Seldin as Co-Curators of the exhibit, and other Lenape elders agreed to serve in an advisory capacity.
Explaining the significance of working on this exhibit, Chief Ruth declared, “all my life, museums have been telling me that my people died or moved away. Working with the Museum at Penn is an opportunity for us to teach people more about our history and our culture." For the Penn Museum, the exhibition also provides an exciting opportunity, as the history of the Lenape who remained in Pennsylvania has never been formally presented to the current inhabitants of Lenapehocking, the Lenape homelands.