I want to acknowledge that this sculptural object sits on the land of the Lenni Lenape Nation. The field of violence enacted upon the Lenni Lenape by and through European settler colonial expansion into the Delaware Valley is sprawling. One particular injustice is the persistent and sustained misrecognition by Europeans of the role of women in the economic, social and political activities of the Lenni Lenape. Women’s presence, labor, leadership and influence were consistently misunderstood and, therefore, narrated inadequately, inconsistently and erroneously in European accounts of their encounters, interactions and/or negotiations with the Lenni Lenape.
Scholar Gunlog Für has been an important source for information on the Lenni Lenape women who are marked on the sculpture, If They Should Ask. Für’s book, A Nation of Women: Gender and Colonial Encounters Among the Delaware Indians, attempts to investigate specific moments of contact between European Colonial Settlers and the various branches of the Lenni Lenape with a particular reflection on the role of gender in the production of European narratives and reports about the Lenni Lenape people.
Notike was a Lenni Lenape woman whose name and signature appears on three documents from records kept by the colonial administration of the Swedish colonies in the Delaware Valley. The appearance of her name, and the documentation of her signature, is, in and of itself, a mark of signification and a demonstration of potent exclusions of women from the European historical record. Für asserts Notike’s name is the only reference in Swedish colonial documents of a woman participating in a political arena. Notike’s signature occurs on documents related to a land dispute between Dutch and Swedish colonists in 1651. Notike inserts into the dispute, her assertion that Peminacka, one of the Lenape sachems with which Dutch colonialist Peter Stuyvesant negotiated, does not have the authority to divest of this disputed piece of land in the Delaware Valley. Notike’s observations are made from a knowledge of and, an authority to speak to, the line of succession in this Lenni Lenape clan. In this case, she is speaking to the succession that follows the leadership of her husband, former sachem, Metatsimint. Für goes on to propose that Notike’s participation in this land conflict suggests that women played a greater role in the management of land than European colonialist report. While there are European accounts that attest to the fact that each Lenni Lenape sachem, or leader, comes to power according to the rules of matrilineal lineage, few, if any records made by European scribes, administrators or diarists detail the specific participation of women in the protocols of succession. Für asserts the instance of Notike’s encounter as evidence that European reports actively and continually obscure the value and leadership of Lenni Lenape women.
The Lenni Lenape record and track their own histories making use of both indigenous and European narratives. There is publicly available information at http://delawaretribe.org and http://delawaretribe.org/blog/2013/06/26/history/ as well as at the website of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Confederation: http://www.nanticoke-lenape.info/history.htm.