Lessons from the Past

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    BYRAM-John Kraft takes a hands-on approach to helping students reach back in time to get a feel for the Lenape history and way of life. Kraft, one of the founders of Lenape Lifeways, a non-profit group that provides educational programs on the Lenape way of life, has taken decades of research on Native Americans and made it come to life. "The Lenape people were just regular people, just like you and me," Kraft said. "They saw the beauty in nature. We can see nature through their artifacts." Adults and children who take part in Lenape Lifeways presentations may pick up authentic weapons, jewelry, tools, musical instruments and cooking utensils, and feel the animal skin clothing and intricate beadwork, in the displays. "Everything is hands-on," Kraft said, recalling that as a child, he went to many museums and had to see things through glass. He decided that wouldn't be the case with his displays. "They get to hold these things. I like to see the sparkle in their eyes." Lenape Lifeways, founded by Kraft and a group of area residents three years ago and operating out of Byram, puts on five different presentations at the rate of between two and four per day, Kraft said. The programs, presented by Kraft and Tiffany Hardiman, are geared to specific audiences and range from "Little Lessons in Lenape Lifeways" for children in kindergarten through second grade, to middle school and high school ages, as well as adult audiences, large and small. Kraft said that although school history books and curricula have improved over the past 20 years and now portray a more accurate picture of Native Americans, teachers like to bring in Lenape Lifeways to supplement their lessons. "There still is a need for this," Kraft said, adding that Lenape Lifeways does hundreds of school programs per year. "The teachers love it because it's hands-on." Educating the public on the Lenape culture is not new to Kraft. The son of Herbert Kraft, a nationally recognized archeologist, author and expert on Native American history, Kraft grew up tagging along with his father on archeological digs and other projects. As a young adult, Kraft began to see that his father's work, highly technical research, was being published in scientific journals, but was not getting to the average person. "We needed to make it more digestible to the general public," Kraft said. He illustrated and helped his father write a number of books on the Lenape or Delaware Indians, including "The Lenape Delaware Indian Heritage 10,000 BC n AD 2000," published in 2001 and considered a definitive work on the Lenape tribes. Kraft also helped develop Waterloo Village's Lenape Village and was director there for years before leaving to start Lenape Lifeways. He keeps in contact with Lenape natives all around the country and works with museums and other researchers to share information. Much information in his books comes from Lenape people whose ancestors have passed on the old way of life to them. "This is so valuable," Kraft said. "I can dig up an arrowhead, but I can't dig up a song or a dance or a belief." In his presentations to children, he teaches them the meanings of some Lenape words, some which are familiar to them, such as Kittatinny which means "big mountain," and Passaic meaning "valley." The message he tries to share is that the Lenapes were "just like us" n not the savage, crude people of Hollywood portrayals, but not the spiritual, mystical people that modern times have put on a pedestal. "There were good people and bad people, just like us. Some were extremely religious and some were not," Kraft said. He also stresses that the Lenape people are alive today. "They drive cars, they shop at the mall and they have DVDs. They're doctors and lawyers," he said, adding that in the studies of the Lenapes' past history their present accomplishments cannot be overlooked. "We have to appreciate that, too." Lenape Lifeways may be contacted by calling (973) 691-2316. John Kraft's books are available through amazon.com or through the group's Web site, www.lenapelifeways.org.