Topics: College of Communication Information and Media, Immersive Learning

April 3, 2014

Ball State University students spent a year traveling to Ohio, Oklahoma and up and down the White River in Indiana to produce a documentary that provides a rich and detailed look at the Lenape Native American experience.

Funded by the Hamer and Phyllis Shafer Foundation through the Ball State Provost’s Office with support from the Building Better Communities Fellows program, “The Lenape on the Wapahani River” brings to life the overlooked story of the Lenape Native Americans during their time in east central Indiana from the 1790s through 1821. The Lenape also are known as the Delaware or the Lenni-Lenape.

Led by Chris Flook, telecommunications instructor, students in the immersive learning project shot hours of video about the tribe and, at the same time, unearthed many local legends about the founding of Muncie and Anderson.

“Our goal is to tell the story of the Lenape people and their impact on east central Indiana,” Flook said. “At the same time, the documentary will also provide the Delaware with a tool to teach their history.”

The Lenape, or Delaware, originated in the Hudson Valley area of New York and moved west to Ohio prior to the Revolutionary War, then relocated to the White River area in east central Indiana after the conflict. In the years between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the Lenape migrated from Indiana to Missouri and Kansas and, ultimately, Oklahoma.

Flook’s students partnered with the Delaware Tribe of Indians in Bartlesville, Okla., and Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers, Ind., to produce the documentary and a website that features historical documents and links to resources and other information about the topic.

As part of their research, the students found a number of historical tidbits of interest to residents of Muncie and the surrounding area. For instance, they found that the Lenape name for the White River was the “Opeksipu” while the Miami Native Americans referred to it as the “Wapahani River.”

The research also found there were as many as 14 Lenape settlements along the White River between Muncie and Fishers. Among them: Wapicamicoke/Buckhongehelas Town (Old Town Hill near Muncie), Wapicamikunk (present day Minnetrista in Muncie), Killibuck's Village (present day Chesterfield), Wapeminskink/Chief Anderson's Town (present day Anderson), Nancy's Town (Madison County), Strawtown (Hamilton County), and Lower Delaware Town (Noblesville).

Students from disciplines that include telecommunications, digital storytelling, anthropology, natural resources and environmental management made two trips to Oklahoma, where the Lenape resettled after leaving Indiana in 1821. A small team of students went in May during the annual Delaware Pow-Wow to meet with tribal leaders, scout shooting/interview locations and discuss the documentary’s story.

In September, a larger crew returned to conduct interviews with several tribal members and collect b-roll material. The students timed their visit to coincide with Delaware Days — a cultural event specific to the Delaware people.

“While the project is going to fill a very large hole in our own knowledge, it also provides a pretty succinct narrative for the tribe to use as a mechanism for their own members to learn their history,” Flook said.

The students also traveled to Ohio to film the location of a Lenape Native American massacre. During the Revolutionary War, 96 Lenape were killed by colonial American militia from Pennsylvania near the village of Gnadenhutten, Ohio. A burial mound is marked and has been maintained on the site. The village site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Flook believes the project will be a revelation to many longtime residents of east central Indiana, who may not know the details of long-forgotten regional tribes and may have heard inaccurate stories about how area towns got their names.

“While the scholarly resources for the Delaware in East Central Indiana are vast, there isn't a whole lot of common/public knowledge on the subject,” said Flook, a Muncie native. “For example, there is an erroneously-told story that a Delaware named Chief Munsee founded the city of Muncie. Munsee, or Minsi, is actually a dialect of the Delaware people. One group of the Delaware spoke Munsee when they were in Indiana and lived at what is now Minnetrista.

“Lots of little stories like this and other inaccurate information is in the public's mind. So for me, the project is going to fill a very large hole in our own knowledge.”

The Minnetrista Cultural Center will host a public viewing of the documentary beginning 1 p.m. April 12. It also may be seen on WIPB-TV starting April 13.