I have attempted to present plau­si­ble rea­son­ing and evi­dence in sup­port of the the­sis that fam­i­lies in a mod­ern cor­po­ra­tion of Delaware descen­dants in Idaho share cul­tural ele­ments at deep lev­els of social orga­ni­za­tion with ances­tral Delawaran and Lenape fam­i­lies. I have sug­gested that the strong role played by fam­ily struc­ture in their daily lives is greatly respon­si­ble for the sur­vival of these eth­nies, of which the fam­ily is a micro­cosm. I am of the admit­tedly spec­u­la­tive opin­ion that the process of eth­ni­fi­ca­tion observed in the Delawares of Idaho mir­rors a process seen in his­toric con­texts, and sus­pected, from lin­guis­tic evi­dence, prehistorically.

The metaphor, or ide­ol­ogy, of kin­ship is present in many of the rela­tions between ear­lier Delaware groups and other groups, as well as the nat­ural and super­nat­ural uni­verse. While this metaphor is not noted in utter­ances or other overt behav­ior by infor­mants for this study, there are sev­eral aspects of their iden­tity which reflect the impor­tance of kin rela­tions, and the per­cep­tual salience of kin­ship. The most impor­tant of these is the descent based demar­ca­tion, or bound­ary they main­tain by genealog­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion, by incor­po­ra­tion, y pow­wow, and by par­tic­i­pa­tion as infor­mants and sub­jects of ethnography.

Ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity is the uni­fy­ing prin­ci­ple around which is gath­ered aspi­ra­tions of group, rather resem­bling a vil­lage clus­ter, of fam­i­lies in pur­suit of a com­mon goal. The goal is the recov­ery of lost allot­ment (s) in Okla­homa Indian Ter­ri­tory. This, and related legal his­tory (see appen­dix) is part of the polit­i­cal buoy­ancy which both depresses by slow bureau­cratic grind, and stim­u­lates in the way that doing some­thing after long inac­tion can accomplish.

The sub­sis­tence pat­tern of the Delawaran peo­ples from the time of con­tact with Euro­peans until Removal brought the dec­i­mated rem­nant into Kansas and Okla­homa reveals a gen­er­al­ist strat­egy with men hunt­ing, trap­ping and break­ing ground, while the women and chil­dren cul­ti­vated and gath­ered. The broad range of skills pos­sessed within one Delawaran fam­ily was enough, in numer­ous instances, to enable them to break a small tract of undis­turbed ground into a farm­stead with fields, orchards, build­ings, and live­stock in the span of a gen­er­a­tion or two. Despite their shar­ing the plight of Native Amer­i­cans through­out the New World, it appears from the record of their numer­ous and com­plex rela­tions with a vari­ety of polit­i­cal, eth­nic, com­mer­cial and national enti­ties, they must have viewed them­selves always at the cen­ter of their own universe.

It seems unlikely that the Delawares of Idaho would have become as highly orga­nized as they are, polit­i­cally, had it been solely the respon­si­bil­ity of indi­vid­u­als, act­ing alone, to bring it about.  Few indi­vid­u­als out­side of a fam­ily group would pos­sess the nec­es­sary time and resources, but more impor­tantly, the lack of kin-based coer­cive power might as eas­ily pro­duce apa­thetic rejec­tion of such an effort.

Groups such as fam­i­lies and lin­eages need do no more in mobi­liza­tion than would be nec­es­sary for an indi­vid­ual, thus mak­ing the chance of a suc­cess­ful effort increase pro­por­tion­ate with the num­bers of mem­bers involved. Task shar­ing and divi­sion of labor accord­ing to indi­vid­ual capac­i­ties, espe­cially in pur­suit of explicit goals such as eth­ni­fi­ca­tion and bound­ary main­te­nance lessens the amount of indi­vid­ual effort nec­es­sary for success.

The eth­nic­ity of the Delawares of Idaho thus is a fam­ily based char­ac­ter­is­tic evi­dent also in ear­lier Delawaran groups, espe­cially in sub­sis­tence pat­terns. It accom­pa­nied small groups  of dis­pers­ing fam­i­lies  out of their orig­i­nal  (pre-contact)  homes  in  the  north­east  wood­lands,  into  Ohio  and Indi­ana. It can be observed in the White River groups, in the groups set­tling in Mis­souri and Kansas, and is pre­dicted for groups not as closely exam­ined for this study, viz. the Ontario and Texas ethnies.

It is cer­tainly true that the dialec­ti­cal nature of the eth­nic bound­ary would be less salient to mem­bers of an eth­nic group if it were devoid of cul­tural con­tent. In the final analy­sis, how­ever, spe­cific his­tor­i­cally trans­mit­ted cul­ture con­tent is sec­ondary to a sense of kin­ship in bio­log­i­cally related groups, or fam­i­lies. Cul­tural con­tent may serve to make eth­nic­ity a richer, more com­plex phe­nom­e­non, just as it does for any behav­ior which, like eth­nic­ity, can be linked in some  degree  to  tra­di­tion;  e.g. alco­holism among Catholic clergy.

An inter­est­ing aspect of Delaware eth­nic­ity, and one related to their dis­per­sal and lack of home­land, is that one nec­es­sary con­di­tion of bound­ary main­te­nance is a mar­ginal entourage, so to speak, of other Delawarans, other Indi­ans, anthro­pol­o­gists, attor­neys and pub­li­cists.  Each of these rep­re­sents a pool of ascrip­tion upon which they can draw for legit­i­ma­tion, and to which they can point, from time to time as needed, to impress upon youth­ful or recal­ci­trant mem­bers the impor­tance of sol­i­dar­ity within the bound­ary. Fail­ure to do so would almost cer­tainly result in bound­ary decay and fail­ure of the ethny.

In con­clu­sion, it can be said that the salience of kin rela­tions and gen­er­al­ized sub­sis­tence strate­gies cre­ate the basis for eth­nic­ity in the case of the Delawares of Idaho, and of all their Delawaran eth­nies. The trans­ac­tional we/they dichotomiza­tions implicit in eth­nic bound­ary main­te­nance can be seen as sup­port­ing a dialec­ti­cal view of eth­nic­ity rather than a pos­i­tivis­tic view which would insist on the trans­mis­sion of some cul­tural “essence” through time (i.e. spe­cific prac­tices or beliefs), as the nec­es­sary ingre­di­ent for a cul­tural sur­vival.  While the Delawares of Idaho do have a sense of them as pos­sess­ing a cul­tural “essence”, it lies not in spe­cific Lenape prac­tices trans­mit­ted through time, but rather in their sense of relat­ed­ness to each other, this is a family-centered iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that pro­vides an anchor which secures the con­duct of their lives and their “gen­er­al­ist” sub­sis­tence style. The sense of relat­ed­ness in turn may be based on the bio­log­i­cal mech­a­nism of kin-recognition alleged by van den Berghe to be at the heart of eth­nic­ity and eth­ni­fi­ca­tior (1981). Elab­o­ra­tions of a cul­tural sort are far less read­ily found as puta­tive sur­vivals because, in their for­ma­tion or advent, they fol­low upon the rela­tions of kin­ship and mate­r­ial sub­sis­tence, rather than pre­cede them. Being more recent phe­nom­ena, they can be expected to be more read­ily altered or elim­i­nated from a par­tic­u­lar eth­nic configuration.