This article appeared in the June 25th Issue of TV Times
Nanticoke Tribe Preserves Its Past
By David Maull
It was fourteen years ago when the Nanticoke Indian Tribe followed through with plans to preserve its rich heritage in Delaware and Maryland.
Once an old dilapidated school house from the 1920s was refurbished and donations of Indian clothing and artifacts were received from members of the tribe, the only Native American museum in Delaware was established.
The Nanticoke Indian Museum on Route 24 in Oak Orchard opened in 1984 and has given the tribe a means of preserving not only items belonging to its ancestors, but also artifacts such as arrowheads and stones that have been unearthed during the past century.
"This is real solid proof we were here many years ago," Museum Curator Odette Wright said. "There's been a lot of discoveries since we've had our museum."
By examining the display cases, one can understand how the Nanticoke people lived in generations past. Hammers, stones, arrowheads, pots and tools illustrate their reliance on farming, hunting and fishing.
"We were farmers and fisherman," Wright said. "Most of our stuff is like equipment."
Perhaps the most stunning items on display are the clovis points and drill heads that date back to before 10,000 B.C. Other artifacts in the museum are more than 1,000 years old.
The age of the items was verified by an anthropologist, Wright said.
The museum also has a rarity in the form of a large cooking pot that is mostly intact. The once-broken clay pot was donated to the museum and put back together piece by piece.
Wright noted it is unusual to find pots that have not been broken or damaged. The sand that was often mixed with clay made the pottery fragile.
Other items such as clothing and pine-needle baskets belonged to the tribe's ancestors and were donated by family members.
"I feel we're taking care of our ancestors' things," said Wright, who noted the items would otherwise be in storage at the Nanticoke Indian Center. "It's good to know a part of this is your ancestry."
She noted all of the artifacts were either donated or are on loan. None were purchased.
"How can you buy history? History is something that is so precious," she said.
A second large room in the museum contains a library, displays of traditional Indian dress and artifacts from other Indian tribes.
One glass case houses a tribute to Seneca Indian Chief Big Tree, who in 1963 at the age of 98 was the last Native American to have his profile featured on the Indian-head nickel. A pair of his shoes are included in the display.
The room also serves as a classroom for school groups touring the museum. Wright usually serves as the instructor for such sessions.
"I do schools and groups," she said. "I involve the kids."
One project currently in the works is the construction of a replica Indian village in a field behind the museum. Wright hopes the village will be completed by next summer, giving children and visitors more "hands-on" exposure to Indian life.
But the museum is also important to children within the Nanticoke Tribe.
With Nanticoke children now attending local public schools, it's easy for them to be unaware of their tribal heritage. This makes the museum an important learning tool, Wright said.
She also noted it's important to have contact with people from other Indian tribes.
"We are all one people," she said. "In general, we are all the same."
Nanticoke Indian Museum
WHERE: Route 24 in Oak Orchard, about 12 miles west of Rehoboth Beach.
HOURS: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday; Noon-4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
COST: $1 for adults, 50 cents for children under 12. For more information or to schedule a group tour, call the museum at 945-7022.
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