Q&A with Sterling Street, coordinator of the Nanticoke Indian Museum
The Nanticoke Indians have long called Delaware home, and their story resonates today through the exhibits of the Nanticoke Indian Museum and the many public events they host in Delaware each year. Sterling Street, the museum’s coordinator, is here to help us understand that long legacy. To learn more about the Delaware History Trail, visit www.VisitDelaware.com/history.
What are the most important things for people know about the history of Delaware’s Nanticoke tribe?
To survive in a predominantly European culture, the Nanticoke have worked hard, saved money, and bought land. They also supported their family and friends. Theirs was a small, close-knit community within the community-at-large. The Nanticoke Indians have survived for over 400 years, after having fought in many wars, suffered from diseases and encroachment, and mistreatment, but we are still here.
How did the Nanticoke live before European contact?
We lived in villages of 20 to 40 families. Our dwellings were called Wigwams and Longhouses. We were fishermen, farmers, hunters and gatherers. In the spring and summer, the men fished, and we ate the seafood. In the fall and winter, the men hunted and trapped, and we ate the deer, rabbit, squirrel, beaver, muskrat, and ducks and geese.
Do members of the tribe still live together in a community? Are many in Delaware right now?
Our members live all over the United States. We do still have a small community of our people living along the Indian River in Millsboro, Delaware, and in small groups all the way over to Lewes.
How does the community support one another and sustain their identity?
We support each other through our churches and through the Nanticoke Indian Association. We have Tribal Meetings once a month and we have other events during the year, where we all come together. We also have an annual Powwow, where our friends from other tribes come to visit us. That’s when our members who have moved away, come back home.
Describe some ways people can become involved with the Nanticoke and more aware of their history?
People can visit our Museum, where they can see some of the crafts made by our elders, and some stone artifacts found on our family farms. They can also learn a lot about our history at our Museum. We have a couple of special days at our Museum in May and November, called “Heritage Day,” and “Native American Day.” Our Museum is open to the public for free on those days, and our dancers give a performance, we also have storytelling and food and a guest speaker.
Explain the different roles of the Museum vs. the Center vs. the Church.
Our museum is the keeper of all of our written history, and also houses many of our artifacts and crafts. Our Indian Center is our Tribal Headquarters, where we have monthly Tribal Meetings and other events, and our secretary and treasurer and chief have offices. Our churches are our spiritual and moral guides for our lives.
Can you give us some examples of important artifacts people would see in the museum?
We have several stone artifacts found on our family farms that are thousands of years old. One of those artifacts is called a “Clovis Point” that goes back to 9500 B.C. We also have a diorama of a typical Woodland II village, depicting how some Eastern Woodland People lived in spring and summer. We have a small library of Native American Books. We have an original lacrosse stick that dates back to 1840. We have pottery and Kachina dolls from the Southwest, and we have crafts and beadwork done by our own people.
Tell us a little bit about the symbolism and the meaning of the Nanticoke flag.
The Nanticoke flag has three Nanticoke words on it: “Halac'quow Ewapaw’gup Allappah’wee.” They mean “yesterday, today and tomorrow.” These words symbolically mean we were here in the past, we are here now, and we will be here in the future.
- Nanticoke Indian Heritage Day Celebration. 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, May 7, 2022, at the Nanticoke Indian Museum near Millsboro. Dancing & drumming, singing, storytelling and more. Find Native American vendors and food for sale.
- 44th Annual Nanticoke Powwow. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday Sept. 10, 2022, at Hudson Fields in Milton. Native/Indigenous gathering focused on dance, song and family celebration. Purchase authentic Native/Indigenous handmade crafts and artwork. Eat Native/Indigenous foods . For more, see the Nanticoke Indian Tribe’s page on Facebook, or visit the Nanticoke Indian Museum on the web.