Meet Native America: Mark Gould, Chief of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation
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 people today. —Dennis Zotigh
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.
Chief Gould teaching rattle-making at the tribe's summer youth camp at Cohanzick, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Grounds. Fairton, Fairfield Township, Cumberland County, New Jersey, July 2015.
How is your tribal government set up?
The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal government has three branches—Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Our Tribal Council is comprised of nine members—four members of the Executive Branch who serve staggered four-year terms and five at-large Legislative Council members who serve staggered two-year terms. The Judicial Branch is headed by a Supreme Court of five justices who also oversee lower Peacekeeping Courts.
Important government functions are divided among four statutory committees: Citizenship, Cultural Retention, Ceremonial, and Government Affairs and Relations. An Elder’s Council and Youth Council—called “New Dawn”—are chartered under tribal law.
Other volunteer committees organize our annual powwow, summer camp, biannual gatherings, newsletter, buildings and maintenance, etc. Our tribally chartered community services agency provides for social services to our citizens and our tribally chartered community development agency provides for non-profit economic development initiatives. A tribally owned limited liability company oversees tribal for-profit initiatives.
Our Council meets twice monthly, with the second meeting also being with the general community.
What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?
At the age of 74 and working 40 hours a week, I think my tribal family has been very generous. I conduct all meetings, and I am a voting member of all committees. As chief, I have to think not merely of the present goals and challenges, but also of the future hope of our people. What is unwritten is that I am an ear to those who need to be listened to and a hand for those who need help—all while trying to get others to do the same.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?
I identify with the saying, “It takes a whole village to raise a child,” because I know that I am that child. I think that almost every elder woman either spanked me, pulled my hair or ear, or sent a message home for my parents to handle me. The men taught by example and life lessons. Some lessons were harsh and very costly, but I realize that it was for my safety and wellbeing. I don’t know if this prepared me for leadership, but it did prepare me to be a man of—and for—my people. My own preparation was to surround myself with well-educated, compassionate people who loved our families and loved and feared God.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
As a young man, I did not realize the reason for so many of our tribal citizens to be involved in my life lessons. Everyone wanted to protect me and make me into a person with compassion and strength. During the years that my father was a POW in WWII, my mother and my grandmother taught me to care about myself and others. They also taught me how to be accepted and respected outside of our community. My Aunt Esther tried to save me academically.
The adult lessons were not taught but experienced: How to be strong, how not to be afraid, and how to recognize a fraud. When I tell people who my mentors are, they are puzzled. Their teachings have saved us numerous times. Harry (Rusty) Wright, Donald (Duck) Gould, and Jesse (Doobie) Gould—some of their wisdom was passed on with cryptic proverbs like, “Ain’t no hill to a climber.” (There is nothing you cannot do if you put your mind to it.) Or, “All goodbyes ain’t gone.” (There is nothing you can do to stop me. Don’t view my retreat as defeat. I’ll be back).
Approximately how many members are in your tribe?
There are about 3,800 tribal citizens.
What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?
To be a tribal citizen, you must be one-quarter blood from our base roll.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
The tribal citizens are involved in reviving the Southern Unami dialect of the Lenape language through a tribally based program of instruction. I’m not sure how I will make out, but the younger ones have surprised everyone.
What annual events does your tribe sponsor?
We sponsor an annual Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Pow Wow, two spiritual gatherings, a weekly senior lunch, and a summer youth camp.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?
Educate yourself about the problems facing your people. Give freely of your time. Always remember that you do not have a clue how many tribal citizens were involved in your safety, your education, and the assurance that you do not have to endure the punishment and discrimination that they suffered.
Photos courtesy of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation; used with permission.
To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below.
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.