A Shared Responsibility: Ursinus Hosts Indigenous Representation Symposium
Sometimes the best way to benefit your own community is to reach outside of it. That’s a sentiment shared by Jeremy Johnson, cultural education director for the Delaware Tribe of Indians, during the first-ever Symposium for Indigenous Representation at Ursinus College.
The symposium, co-hosted by the Delaware Tribe and Ursinus’s Division of Inclusion and Community Engagement, gathered 75 educators, community and elected leaders, historical societies and museums, volunteers, and friends who—in collaboration with the five Lenape tribes—are invested in responsibly and accurately representing Lenape history in the region. It was a clear demonstration of communities helping one another.
“We’re still pushing,” Johnson said during an afternoon panel discussion about working with native tribes for educational purposes. “We’re educating our folks first so that they can better tell our story, and these cultural teachings build community.”
Two years ago, Ursinus began a partnership with the Delaware Tribe of Indians and the Perkiomen Valley School District on the Welcome Home Project to honor the history, culture, and legacy of the Lenape people, who for thousands of years inhabited what is now the Collegeville area. Since then, Delaware Tribe representatives have visited Ursinus classrooms and the Ursinus Food Forest, and the project has resulted in a Statement of Mutual Intentions and a Land Acknowledgement Statement.
The two-day symposium included representatives from the Museum of the American Revolution; the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Pennsbury Manor and Fort Pitt museums; and Ursinus faculty, staff, and students. It began on Thursday, August 8, with a proclamation from Pennsylvania state Rep. Joe Webster.
“It really speaks to the work ahead of us in continuing this partnership with the Delaware Tribe of Indians and our effort to build greater awareness and knowledge, not only in our schools, but in our larger community,” Ursinus Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement Heather Lobban-Viravong said. “This work matters because we have a shared history that must be acknowledged and because it provides an opportunity to learn more about the culture, the history, and experiences of the Lenape people.”
The symposium included a panel discussion, moderated by Ursinus President Robyn Hannigan, on how museums work to accurately represent Lenape history in their exhibitions; a tour of the Berman Museum of Art’s Navajo war ceremony silkscreen print exhibition, Where the Two Came to Their Father; a session on working with the tribes for educational purposes; and an archives presentation from Delaware Tribe of Indians Elder John Thomas and Liam Reilly ’24.
One of the most important aspects of Ursinus’s partnership with the Lenape people is its land stewardship. Ursinus Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies Patrick Hurley described the work of the Ursinus Food Forest as “a living learning laboratory that includes sharing the harvest and welcoming back tribal members to walk the land and reconnect with it.”
“It’s called a food forest, but it’s really about natural resources that are culturally important and that can be shared and used by the community,” Hurley said.
Perkiomen Valley Middle School East Principal Seamus Clune described the PV School District’s own land stewardship initiatives, which include two arboretums totaling 76 acres. “We’re promoting environmental stewardship and social justice and getting the children to understand more about the people who share the land with us,” he said.
Doug Miller, historic site administrator for Pennsbury Manor, talked about the importance of learning about Native American history firsthand from tribe members like Johnson.
“It’s much different than watching YouTube,” Miller said. “You gain an appreciation when you can see history through a clearer lens.”
Lobban-Viravong said, “It raises our consciousness about the land that we’re on, the region in which we live, and the history of this place.”
Participants expressed appreciation for the symposium and a desire to see it continue. Lobban-Viravong said that DICE has plans to host one again and in a way that takes advantage of the partnerships that were formed over the two days of this inaugural event.