As Joe Baker recollects,
“In the early 1970s tribal member, Nora Thompson Dean, broke the silence of 400 years of separation by a series of unprecedented trips East to our ancestral lands. A native speaker, she visited museums, universities and participated in various symposiums contributing immensely to the scholarship of Lenape cultural practice. An imposing native woman who still held the medicine of plants and the voices and songs of the animals, I was inspired by her bold actions and creativity. She stirred within me the curiosity to know more about the world extending far beyond Oklahoma. It is her spirit that has guided the formation of Lenape Center as we dream and shape our future in the greater Manhattan area.”
Jim Rementer is project director for the Talking Lenape Project, and the tribally appointed Director of the Lenape Language Project. Rementer “began his study of the Lenape or Delaware language in the summer of 1961. He returned the following summer and resumed his study with James H. Thompson, one of the oldest tribal members. After Mr. Thompson’s death in 1964, Jim continued his study primarily with Nora Thompson Dean, daughter of James Thompson. Jim continued his studies with other speakers, and in 1997 the Delaware Tribe appointed him director of the Lenape Language Project” (Lenape Talking Dictionary).
“I visited with Jim in my youth, privileged to be able to share many conversations in his office. Revey was Sand Hill Lenape from New Jersey and head of New Jersey Indian Office. Nora would meet with him on the historic trips back east. I knew him growing up and through College."
James L.B. Revey, a Delaware Lenape, "was the chairman of the New Jersey Indian Office for the Delaware Lenape Nation in Orange for more than 24 years. Mr. Revey also was the designated state representative and spokesman for the federally-recognized Delaware tribe. He was a genealogical consultant, researcher, author and lecturer on the Delaware Lenape Tribe, New Jersey's first settlers. Mr. Revey gave presentations about his heritage to state universities, museums and other educational and historical institutions throughout New Jersey” (Star-Ledger, Sep 15, 98, Newark, NJ).
As a Mohican composer, I was invited to attend a formative meeting of the Lenape Center in 2010, where Joe Baker, Hadrien Coumans and Curtis Zunigha (Delaware Tribe of Indians) had the idea to sponsor an artistic work to benefit the mission of Lenape Center. The concept was proposed to commission a work from me, and when asked about this commission, I chuckled that we should do “the purchase of Manhattan!” I had just visited 1 Bowling Green in lower Manhattan, the Heye Foundation, that is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) near Battery Park. Just south of the Museum entrance is a stone obelisk featuring a carving of an Indian man sharing some wampum with a Dutchman, with the inscription underneath “Purchase of Manhattan.” It’s why the notion for a new musical theater work popped into my head when asked. But what first started as a passing thought, next became an impactful suggestion, and finally a significant concrete plan.
After much fundraising on my part, I secured enough support to compose the work, together with Joseph Bruchac on the libretto. Many organizations and individuals have contributed to the works’ formation. Neva Pilgrim, Society for New Music, played an instrumental part in producing the first performance of the shorter 38-minute work (and significantly on the new version as well)! With her highly successful organization, Purchase of Manhattan took to it’s wings! With our deep appreciation, the new 52-minute concert opera—premiering a week from now in Manhattan—owes much to Intersections International, the Collegiate Churches of New York, and to the Society of New Music and Neva Pilgrim! Thank you all!
The world premiere of the new concert opera, Purchase of Manhattan, is the first large performance production of Lenape Center, and is designed to put our best foot forward toward Lenape Center’s mission into the future. I am incredibly privileged and proud to contribute to the Center’s mission, and I invite all of you—wherever you live—to join us in this vital endeavor “to continue the cultural presence in Manhattan by promoting Lenape language and the creation, development, distribution and exhibition of Lenape arts and culture.” The seeds were planted long ago by many Lenapes including Nora Thompson Dean, Jim Rementer and Jim Revey. And today, Joe Baker, Hadrien Coumans, and Curtis Zunigha of Lenape Center are nurturing the growing tree!
Please come see the world premiere of the new concert opera Purchase of Manhattan on November 20, 7 PM, at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. It’s going to be an exciting one-night-only, one-of-a-kind evening! Please join us!