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 my source for information on Chicaklicka Nanni Kettelev and Notike, both 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.
Für discusses another indigenous woman whose name appears in colonial records as “Canatowa, Queen of the Mingoes.” This appellation is recorded in the minutes of a council meeting between Pennsylvania Provincial Council representatives and the leaders of four Native Nations at “Conestogoe” or Conestogo, June 29, 1719. The council meeting was organized to discuss a spate of violence erupting in the Delaware Valley. Für references documentation of Canatowa’s presence in other colonial encounters but also points out that the colonial record does not allow for a full understanding of the proper name of this “Queen”, what title the Conestoga used for her, nor her relationship to the other leaders of the Conestoga (or Mingos) or her role in the leadership of the nation, its people and their daily social, economic or political lives. It is possible that Canatowa is not a personal name but a symbolic title that refers to the town or locale on behalf of which this leader may have been speaking.
This confusion over the veracity of the name Canatowa points, for me, to the general instability of historical records constructed, as they are, from specific linguistic, cultural, social, economic and religious positions and investments. That indigenous women’s names, personhood, labor, knowledge, leadership and value were illegible to these early colonial scribes is a reality that allowed for and perpetuated wide-scale fictions or misrepresentations that continue to our present moment.
I do not know the proper name of this figure appearing in the colonial minutes of June 29, 1719. I assert her presence as: “the woman whose name was written as Canatowa” to hold a place for myself and for this collective project to work harder to uncover her contributions. The marking is also a reminder that our current understandings of the historical genealogies of Philadelphia and its people are infused with the violence of settler colonialism.
The Lenni Lenape record and track their own histories. There is publicaly 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.