News and Views

‘Once It Has Been Spoken...It Cannot Be Unspoken': Preserving the Nanticoke Language of Kutikitowakanun

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From Raggatha Calentine

It is with great rejoicing that the Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM) of the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference announces the publication and celebration of the revival of the Nanticoke Language in the book "Once It Has Been Spoken...It Cannot Be Unspoken; Kutikitowakanun, Our Nanticoke Language."

The project began with a vision of Nanticoke Elders that was re-awakened in 2019 and was initially funded by a grant from the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Since that time, large and small donations have continued to support the work; gifts from individuals, other United Methodist Annual Conferences, local churches, organizations, and various Native groups and Native ministries. Professional and student linguists worked closely with CoNAM members to develop the book, which is illustrated by a young adult member of the Pen-Del CoNAM and of the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribe of New Jersey, one of the Three Sisters Tribes of the region.

All are invited to celebrate this historic event at the formal presentation of the book to the Nanticoke Tribe, which will take place on Saturday, September 9, 2023, at the 45th Annual Nanticoke Powwow immediately following the Grand Entry at noon, held at Hudson Fields, 30045 Eaglecrest Road, Milton, DE 19968. Chief Avery Johnson will receive the first Gifting of the Book on behalf of the Nanticoke People. The singing of the original song “Mat Haashii; Never Again” written for the book will be offered by the Red Blanket Singers, accompanied by a special dance created for the song for this moment and forever.

We give thanks to the Creator for the vision of the Elders, the perseverance of those working on the book, and all those who gave so generously to help breathe new life into this language that is an essential part of the Peninsula-Delaware region. This work begins a restoration of justice long denied and a vital part of the Act of Repentance and Healing initiated by The United Methodist Church in 2016. 

The Backstory

Long ago, the Nanticoke Nation lived throughout the region of what is now known as Southern Delaware. The Nanticoke People had a strong community, a vibrant culture, and a beautiful language. Over the years, others came across the Salty Waters who could not understand or appreciate the People known as the Nanticokes. Our community was disrupted and destroyed. The newcomers disrespected Our Culture, creating laws to forbid our people from practicing our ways. History has written that Lydia Clark was the last speaker of the Nanticoke Language. Upon Lydia Clark's Walking On in 1840, silence fell upon the Nanticoke language.

Grateful Elders remembered and held tight to the tradition. They worked hard to strengthen the community, honor the culture, and plant the seeds for breathing new life into the language. And though many of them have walked on, our memory of them is cherished even to this day.

We say Waanishii to our Ancestors and their vision for the tremendous efforts and skills of a small crew of dedicated souls for the past four and half years. With the generous gifts of many organizations and donors, we celebrate the revival of Our Nanticoke Language, Kutikitowakanun, in the book "Once It Has Been Spoken...It Cannot Be Unspoken." The book introduces essential words, concepts, cultural teachings, prayers, and songs. An audio CD is included to allow for pronunciation direction.

In the near future, language classes will be held throughout our community and beyond; children, Elders, youth, and adults will all be encouraged and engaged in breathing life into our language.

In the not-so-distant future, we plan to write and publish our Nanticoke stories in our Nanticoke Language in a series of children's books.

And in the further days ahead, we envision publishing subsequent books designed to teach the language with expanding vocabulary and grammar and deepening cultural concepts and practices. Continuing classes would be offered throughout local communities and, perhaps, Creator willing, even in our State educational system and higher education institutions.  

 Nasgigwo Winigalsd -- RagghiRain