"We are thriving": Nanticoke Indians Celebrate Heritage in Delaware, invite public to learn more

"We are here. We are alive. We are thriving. And we're a proud people," said Chief Natosha Carmine.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Friday, November 5, 2021
"We are thriving": Nanticoke Indians Celebrate Heritage in Delaware
The Nanticoke Indians have called Delaware their home for thousands of years, and are inviting the public to learn more about their history.

MILLSBORO, Delaware (WPVI) -- Looking out along the water in Sussex County, Delaware, one can imagine what the area must have looked like thousands of years ago. And in those thousands of years, the Nanticoke Indians have always been there.

"We originated along the Nanticoke River," said Sterling Street, Coordinator of the Nanticoke Indian Museum. "The Nanticoke River was named after us because that's where Captain John Smith came in 1608 and met with the Nanticoke chiefs."

But rarely is the history of the Nanticoke Indians reflected alongside Captain John Smith's.

"We're not federally recognized. We're only state-recognized," said Dr. Bonnie Hall, a former tribal council member who is now the chairperson of the Nanticoke Indian Commemoration Committee.

There are other types of recognition, though, happening for the tribe and for other Native American tribes across the country as occasions like Indigenous People's Day are recognized in some areas locally and nationally.

"I think it's about time. And that the true history has been told," said Street.

Street, whose Native name is Earth Keeper, is often responsible for sharing that history in his role at the museum.

"We are the only Native American museum in Delaware," said Street of the museum, which sits about 1.5 miles from the Indian River at 26673 John. J. Williams Highway in Millsboro.

The museum houses artifacts from the Nanticoke Indian Tribe and from other tribes across the country. It sometimes comes as a surprise to visitors who have no idea that the Nanticokes were still in the area.

"We are here. We are alive. We are thriving. And we're a proud people," said Chief Natosha Carmine, who became the first woman to be selected as Nanticoke chief when she was elected six years ago.

Carmine has overseen changes that involve making the tribe more visible. That involves connecting up to 400 tribal members to the larger public through partnerships with other organizations.

It also involves making sure that Nanticoke history is preserved.

"We are in the process of revitalizing our language," said Street.

The tribe is also celebrating an achievement in that area, as a historic marker will soon be placed at the building that once served as a school for Nanticoke Indian children in the decades before desegregation.

"(Tribal members) literally took their children out of school and built a school just for us," said Hall, who attended the school in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade.

"When I grew up, it was a one-room schoolhouse," she said of the former Indian Mission School, which now serves as the Nanticoke Indian Center. "Not only did it teach us academically, but it also taught us our Nanticoke history."

Today, Hall is part of the team that secured the historic marker. The ceremony will be held on November 15 at 11 am at the Nanticoke Indian Center. It is open to the public, just like the Native American Day celebration which is planned for Saturday, November 6th from 11am-4pm at the Nanticoke Indian Museum.

"This is a legacy that we need to not only be informed of, but proud of," said Hall.

Carmine agrees, adding that becoming more visible to the public is part of the next phase in the tribe's rich history.

"We cannot walk in fear," she said. "We have to walk in faith."

For more information on the Nanticoke Indian Tribe, the November 15th historic marker dedication and the November 6th Native American Day celebration, visit: https://www.nanticokeindians.org/