Millsboro leaders, Nanticoke tribe bolster partnership

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 5/5/22

MILLSBORO — Representatives of the native people who first inhabited Millsboro’s lands visited Town Council on Monday, in an effort to maintain a respectful partnership.

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Millsboro leaders, Nanticoke tribe bolster partnership

Posted

MILLSBORO — Representatives of the native people who first inhabited Millsboro’s lands visited Town Council on Monday, in an effort to maintain a respectful partnership.

A Nanticoke Indian flag, designed 20 years ago by tribe member Matt Harmon, was presented to Acting Mayor Tim Hodges by Nanticoke Chief Natosha Carmine.

“I come to you this evening to present to you the Nanticoke Indian flag, remembering yesterday, today and tomorrow,” she said.

The mayor thanked the Nanticoke visitors, saying, “We look forward to continuing the relationship that we have and (that) has been built into the future,” he said. “I love history myself.”

Dr. Bonnie Hall, chair of the Nanticoke Indian Association’s Commemorative Committee, emphasized the significance of “a very historic milestone that is taking place tonight.”

She expressed gratitude, particularly to former Mayor John Thoroughgood, under whose leadership the group secured a historic marker at Cupola Park in 2019.

“And as part of some of the residual conversations that took place, this idea came up about having the flag that would be presented to the Town Council, that would be shown in these chambers, so that it exemplifies the partnership that the town has with the Nanticoke Nation,” said Dr. Hall. “I call it an evolving project and collaboration with the town.”

Chief Carmine said the partnership is “opening doors.”

“The collaboration is that, for all of these years before 2019 — I think it was October, Indigenous Peoples Day, that we did the installation of the historic marker at Cupola Park — there was not much notice of the Nanticoke in town,” she said. “We know that we have not met a lot in the past two years, just because of COVID keeping us apart, but we know that the town is there if we need something, that we have a relationship with them.”

She added that her people have been granted a say among Millsboro officials.

“I have been chief for seven years, and my comment is, even before that, when I was on Tribal Council for four years before becoming chief, that the Nanticoke should have a voice at the table,” said Chief Carmine. “With that being said, we are making our efforts to prosper and grow in those communications.”

Displaying the flag, which bears the significant colors of green and blue, as well as symbols of the Nanticoke Nation, were Mike Harmon and his son, Matt Harmon.

“One of the things that you need to understand, the Nanticokes were the first people of this town, of this area. It was by inhabiting near the Indian River that we made our way of life,” said Dr. Hall.

Another feature of the flag is the former Nanticoke School.

“Nanticoke School was very important to us and our tribe,” said Dr. Hall, noting that, during the 1800s, Delaware schools were segregated. “So there was a movement afoot to put the Nanticokes with the other ethnic groups. Many of our elders, of course, opposed that. With help from some of the folks that really stood their ground, … we were able to get approval from the Delaware General Assembly to be able to build our own school. That is the Nanticoke Indian School, which is now our Nanticoke Center on Route 24.”

It was in the 1920s when the school was opened for students, as a one-room building for grades one through eight.

“Mike and I are prior students at that school. We take a lot of pride in that. That school means a lot to us,” said Dr. Hall. “And as many of you know, we have a capital campaign that is in the process right now, and we’re going to do renovations to that school. For Mike and I, we are kind of torn between the progress and preserving what we know, where we began our educational journey and got our foundation in our traditions and our culture and our history. That is where we learned who we were as a people.”

The flag also displays the year 1881, a significant time for the tribe.

“Not only was that the date — I think it was March 10, 1881 — when the Delaware Assembly approved this incorporated body of the Nanticoke Indian Association. That is also when the Nanticokes were first recognized by the state of Delaware as a tribal nation,” Dr. Hall said. “We, as a tribe, consider ourselves a nation, primarily due to the fact that we have our language. We have our own culture. We have our own history. We have our own government. We’ve got our own chief.”

She noted that, along with the Nanticoke, the Lenape tribe in the Cheswold area is recognized by the state. “But we were the first,” she added.

Dr. Hall said her people treasure patriotism, symbolized by the image of the American flag on the banner presented Monday.

Other symbols on the flag — a mortar and pestle and an eel pot — represent the way of life of elders and ancestors, who farmed, plus fished and crabbed in the Indian River.

Lastly, bordering the circular section are 32 wampum, traditional beads of Native American tribes. Thirty-one of the beads represent the families that were part of the original incorporated body of the Nanticoke Indian Association. “The extra one represents the other families that were not a part of that in the beginning. They were part of our tribe, but they were not part of that incorporation in 1881,” said Dr. Hall.

Among the Nanticokes’ initiatives is an annual powwow, scheduled Sept. 10-11 at Hudson Fields, near Milton.