In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
My name is Mark Quiet Hawk Gould. I am the elected chief of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation and have served in tribal leadership for over four decades. I am also vice president of Native American Advancement Corporation (NAAC), a non-profit agency operated by the tribe that provides weatherization services for homes through an initiative under the Department of Energy. Both the tribal headquarters and NAAC offices are located in Cumberland County, New Jersey.
Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?
Like many of my tribal relatives, my English name is a Native name, because Gould is one of the core Lenape families of our tribal base rolls, going back to the time of first contact with the English colonists who came to our homeland. My ceremonially given tribal name is Chitkwesit Mexkaniat, which in English is Quiet Hawk. It describes of my relationship with the Creator; I am quiet before him, but rarely quiet with people.
Where is your tribal community located?
Our tribal headquarters is located in Bridgeton, in Cumberland County, New Jersey. Our cultural center is located on 51 acres in Fairton, in Cumberland County. Most of our tribal members live and have always lived in Cumberland and Salem counties.
Where is your tribe originally from?
Our tribal families have always resided here around the Delaware Bay in South Jersey and Delaware. The core Lenape families on the New Jersey side of the bay intermarried with core Lenape and Nanticoke families from the two continuing historic communities on the Delaware side of the Bay for at least the past 300 years. The intermarriage has been so prevalent that the people of the three tribal communities are all interrelated.
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
In the early 1970s our lives began to change. There was a lack of work, school opportunities were becoming few and far between, and our churches were becoming integrated, leaving our families without the governance that had been centered in our core churches for more than a century and a half. At the same time, the Piscataway and the Nanticoke offered their assistance in reorganizing into an elected tribal government that was independent from the church.
The enthusiasm of the younger generation around reorganizing in an open public fashion alarmed our elders, who advised us to be still because of the history of abuse our people had suffered and were still experiencing. Thanks to the Creator, we were pushed forward by two very strong elder women, Marion Strong Medicine Gould and Mary Spreading Eagle Wings Ward. That was the new revitalization of our families. We were then visited by Nora Thompson Dean, a spiritual leader of the Lenape Delaware of Oklahoma. She extended an invitation to our council to visit her community. While there, we were introduced to the Moraviantown Lenape Delaware of Ontario, Canada.
Our community had chosen to isolate itself, and our people did not want to share our culture with those around us. Outsiders did not understand our life ways. Sharing could bring dire consequences and even punishment by outsiders. The very first informal setting in Oklahoma was not only heartwarming but also eye-opening. Our spiritual leader, Chief Lew Gray Squirrel Pierce, and I found ourselves staring at one of the elders from the Oklahoma Delaware, having to explain that our awkward gaze was not meant to be disrespectful, but was because the elder looked exactly like Lew’s sister back home. We found so many who reminded us of our relatives around the Delaware Bay.
Reviving ancient connections led to another memorable moment in my own life when I was very ill. Sixteen members of the Moraviantown Lenape came 600 miles to have ceremony and pray for my health. After all these years, I know that prayer works! I also know that we survive by the Creator’s blessing and because we care for one another.
To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.