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Nanticoke Indian Fact Sheet

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

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  Nanticoke Tribe

How do you pronounce "Nanticoke?" What does it mean?
Nanticoke is pronounced NAN-tuh-coke. ("NAN" rhymes with "man.") It comes from Nentego, a word in the Nanticoke Indian language that means "tidewater people."

Where do the Nanticokes live?
The original Nanticoke homeland was located in the area that is now Delaware and Maryland. Many Nanticoke people still live in Delaware today, while others joined Lenape and Munsee groups in their forced travels through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Ontario, Canada. Here is a map showing some of the westward migrations of the Delaware Indians and their allies.

How is the Nanticoke Indian nation organized?
There is no officially recognized Nanticoke tribe in the United States. That means the Nanticoke Indians don't have a reservation or their own government. In Delaware, the Nanticokes have an unofficial tribe which serves the cultural needs of the Nanticoke community. Here is a link to their tribal homepage.

What language do the Nanticokes speak?
Nanticoke Indians all speak English today. Their native language, Nanticoke, has not been spoken since the 1800's. Nanticoke was an Algonquian language closely related to Lenape and Munsee. You can read a Nanticoke picture glossary here.

What was Nanticoke culture like in the past? What is it like now?
The Nanticokes were culturally similar to the Lenape people, who they considered elder kinfolk. Over time the Nanticoke Indians have lost much of their culture, including their language, traditional religion, and many customs. But today young Nanticokes have new interest and pride in their grandparents' traditions. Here are some photographs from the Nanticoke Pow-Wow, where modern Nanticoke Indians wear traditional clothes and celebrate their heritage with song and dance.

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How do Nanticoke 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. 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. Nanticoke Indian mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their infants in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with pictures of Native American baby boards.

What were men and women's roles in the Nanticoke tribe?
Nanticoke Indian men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Nanticoke 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, the Nanticoke chief was always a man, but today a Nanticoke Indian woman can be a leader too.

What were Nanticoke homes like in the past?
The Nanticokes didn't live in tepees. They lived in villages of round houses called wigwams. Here are some pictures of a wigwam like the ones Nanticoke Indians used. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage. Most Nanticokes live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

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

The Nanticokes didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Usually they wore beaded headbands with a feather or two in the back. The Nanticokes painted their faces with different colors and designs for different occasions, and Nanticoke men often wore tattoos in animal designs. Men and women both wore their hair in long braids, but in times of war, but warriors often wore a Mohawk hairstyle or shaved their heads completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of their heads.) Here is a website with pictures of Indian hair style.

Today, Nanticoke Indian people wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Nanticoke transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Nanticoke Indians carved dugout canoes from wood. Here is a website with Native canoe pictures. Over land, the Nanticokes used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Today, of course, Nanticoke Indian people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

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

What kinds of weapons and tools did the Nanticokes use?
Nanticoke hunters used bows and arrows. Warriors fought with heavy wooden war clubs. Here is a website with pictures and information about the Indian club and other traditional weapons.. Sometimes Nanticokes used poison on their enemies, so Nanticoke chiefs, like European kings, were very careful to test their food before eating it. Some examples of Nanticoke tools included stone axes, wooden hoes for gardening, and spoons and bowls made from shells. Here is a museum website with pictures of Nanticoke arrowheads, pots and other artifacts.

What are Nanticoke art and crafts like?
The Nanticokes were known for their Native American pottery and decorative baskets. Like other eastern American Indians, Nanticokes 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 symbols and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What is Nanticoke music like?
The two most important Lenape instruments are the drum and flute. Lenape drums were usually large and several men would play them together at tribal dances and ceremonies. Flutes were carved from wood are were most often used to play love songs. Here is a video of drummers performing a song at the Nanticoke powwow festival.

What other Native Americans did the Nanticoke Indian tribe interact with?
The Nanticoke Indians were close relatives of the Lenni Lenape and Munsee 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 Wampanoags and Mohicans, and they often fought with the Iroquois tribes.

What kinds of stories do the Nanticokes tell?
Storytelling was very important to the Nanticoke Indian culture. Nanticoke legends and folklore are very similar to the Lenape ones. Here's one typical legend about how the crow got black feathers. Here's a website where you can read more about Lenape and Nanticoke legends.

What about Nanticoke religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Nanticoke life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Nanticoke people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Nanticoke spirituality or this site about Native American Indian spiritual beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you want to know more about Nanticoke culture and history, two interesting sources are The Nanticoke (for younger kids) and The Nanticoke Community of Delaware (for older kids). Another good history book is The Nanticoke Indians: Past and Present, but it's hard to find a copy of that one now. You can also browse through our recommendations of books about American Indians in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

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 2020.

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

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Learn More About The Nanticokes

Nanticoke Indian Tribe
An overview of the Nanticoke people, their language and history.

Nanticoke Language Resources
Nanticoke Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Nanticoke Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Nanticoke tribe past and present.

Nanticoke Indian Words
Nanticoke Indian vocabulary lists.

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