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Munsee Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Munsees for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to look through our main Munsee page for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Munsee pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




    Munsee Tribe

How do you pronounce "Munsee?" What does it mean?
Munsee is pronounced "MUN-see" (MUN rhymes with "fun.") It comes from the people's original name, Minisink, which means "from the rocky land."

What is the right way to spell "Munsee?"
The Munsee Delaware language didn't have a writing system until recently, so different people spelled it different ways. Most Munsee people spell the word "Munsee" today, but in the past "Minsi," "Muncey," and "Muncie" were also common.

Where do the Munsees live?
The Munsee tribe originally lived in southern New York, northern New Jersey, and southeastern Connecticut. But Dutch and British colonists forced them to leave their homeland in the 1700's. Some Munsees retreated to Canada, where they still live today. Others joined the Mohican tribe and ended up moving to Wisconsin together, where they are known as the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe. Still other Munsees joined their relatives the Lenni Lenape on their trails westward, and most of their descendents live in Oklahoma today.

How is the Munsee Indian nation organized?
Most Munsees today live on three reserves in Ontario, Canada. Reserves, or reservations, are special lands that belong to Native American tribes and are under their control. In the United States, the Munsees share a reservation with the Stockbridge Indians. Together they are called the Stockbridge Munsee Tribe. Although the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe and the three Canadian Munsee bands consider themselves members of the same Munsee nation, each band has its own leadership and services.

In the past, each Munsee village had its own chief. A Munsee chief was more like a mayor than a king, and he had to work together with a tribal council of village elders to govern his village. Munsee bands are still governed by tribal councils, and some of them have chiefs as well. But today, council members and chiefs are elected like other modern politicians.

What language do the Munsees speak?
Munsee Indians all speak English today. Some elders also speak their native Munsee language. Munsee is an Algonquian language closely related to Lenape and Nanticoke. If you'd like to learn a few easy Munsee words, "he" (pronounced "hey") is a friendly greeting and "anushiik" (pronounced ah-noo-sheek) means "thank you." You can also listen to some audio clips of the language here and read a Munsee picture glossary here.

Today Munsee is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Munsee Indian people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Munsee culture like in the past? What is it like now?
The Munsees were culturally similar to the Delaware tribe, who they considered elder kinfolk. Today, the Munsee culture has changed somewhat because the Munsees have been living in close contact with Indians from other tribes. Here is the homepage of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe, where you can learn more about Munsee culture in the past and today.

How do Munsee Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Munsee children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls, ball games, and toys like miniature bows and arrows. Munsee mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with pictures of cradleboards and other Native baby carrier technology.

What were men and women's roles in the Munsee tribe?
Munsee Indian men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Munsee women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, Munsee chiefs were always men, but today a Munsee Indian woman could be chief too.

What were Munsee homes like in the past?
The Munsees didn't live in tepees. They lived in villages of round houses called wigwams. Here are some pictures of Native American wigwams like the ones Munsee Indians used. During the summer, Munsee families would go on extended hunting trips. Then, they built a temporary camp of lean-tos or smaller wigwams to sleep in. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage. Most Munsees live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Munsee clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Munsee women wore knee-length skirts. Munsee men wore breechclout and leggings. Shirts were not necessary in the Munsee culture, but the Munsees did wear deerskin mantles in cool weather. Both genders wore earrings and moccasins. In colonial times, the Munsees adapted European fashions such as cloth blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork. Here are some pictures of Delaware Indian clothing, and some photos and links about Native American apparel in general.

The Munsees didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Usually they wore a beaded head band with a feather or two in it. The Munsees painted their faces with different colors and designs for different occasions, and the men often wore tattoos in animal designs. Men and women both wore their hair in long braids, but a warrior often wore a Mohawk hairstyle or shaved his head completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of his head.) Here is a website with pictures of Native American Indian hair.

Today, some Munsee people still have a traditional headband or moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Munsee transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, Munsee people made birchbark canoes or carved dugout canoes from wood. Here is a website with pictures of these different Indian boat types. Over land, the Munsees used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Munsee Indians used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter. They learned to make those tools from northern neighbors like the Cree Indians. Today, of course, Munsee Indian people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Munsee food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Munsee were farming people. The women harvested corn, squash and beans, which they called the "three sisters." Munsee men hunted deer, elk, turkeys, and small game, and went fishing in the lakes and rivers. Munsee Indian recipes included soup, cornbread, dumplings and salads. Here is a website with more information about Native agriculture.

What kinds of weapons did the Munsees use?
Munsee warriors used heavy wooden war clubs and carried body-length shields of moosehide and wood. Munsee hunters usually used bows and arrows. Here is a website with pictures and information about Native Indian weapons.

What are Munsee art and crafts like?
The Munsee tribe is known for their beadwork designs and basketry. Like other eastern American Indians, Munsees also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What other Native Americans did the Munsee Indian tribe interact with?
The Munsee Indians were close relatives of the Lenape and Nanticoke Indians. These tribes were never united into a single confederacy, but they all considered themselves Delaware Indians. The Delaware tribes traded regularly with all the other New England Indians, especially the Wampanoag and Mohicans, and they often fought with the powerful Iroquois Confederacy.

What kinds of stories do the Munsees tell?
Storytelling was very important to the Munsee Indian culture. Traditional Munsee legends and fairy tales are very similar to the Lenape ones, although in modern times Munsee storytellers also tell Mahican and Iroquois tales. Here's one typical legend about how the crow got black feathers. Here's a website where you can read more about Munsee mythology.

What about Munsee religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Munsee mythology or this site about Native American religious beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy The White Deer, which is a collection of traditional Lenape and Munsee Delaware legends. (Some of them may be too scary for younger children.) If you want to know more about Munsee culture and history, one interesting source is The Munsee, though it can be hard to find. Younger kids may prefer The Lenape Indians, which is much easier to read--the Lenape and Munsee were kinfolk who had very similar culture. You can also browse through our recommendations of American Indian books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Munsee Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Munsees

Munsee Indian Tribe
An overview of the Munsee Delaware nation, their language and history.

Munsee Language Resources
Munsee language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Munsee Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Munsee people past and present.

Munsee Indian Words
Munsee Indian vocabulary lists.



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