MOU signing

A dancer performs during festivities following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Delaware Nation and Lehigh University on Oct. 13. The event included Native dancing, food and an open house at Lehigh's Institute for Indigenous Studies.

Lehigh and Delaware Nation Announce Partnership

The agreement will aid in Indigenous research opportunities and establish a historic preservation office on campus. Lehigh is situated on Delaware Nation’s ancestral lands.

Story by

Christina Tatu

Photography by

Marcus Smith '25

In recognition of the Indigenous people who originally inhabited what is today South Bethlehem, Lehigh University signed a historical Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Oct. 13 with Delaware Nation, a sovereign, federally recognized nation of Lenape people.

The document signals an ongoing, reciprocal partnership with one of the Lenape tribal nations whose homelands Lehigh now sits on. The agreement has also enabled Delaware Nation to relocate an extension of their historic preservation office on Lehigh’s campus, which will facilitate the tribal nation’s work in the region and improve education about their history locally and beyond.

“Any time you can establish a formal relationship with a tribal nation, it’s a big deal,” said Sean M. Daley, a faculty member with the College of Health who directs the Institute for Indigenous Studies (IIS), which helped facilitate the partnership.

“When you look at the way Indigenous people and tribal nations are treated, they are left out of everything,” he said, explaining that Native Americans have not been included in most major health and educational studies. “Any time an academic institution can bring them into the fold and work with them, it’s a good thing."

Deborah Dotson

President of Delaware Nation Deborah Dotson signs the Memorandum of Understanding on Oct. 13.

The historic preservation office, located in the IIS at 524 Brodhead Ave., will give faculty, staff and students the opportunity to engage with people of Delaware Nation, Daley said. He also hopes the MOU will encourage Delaware Nation students to not only come to Lehigh to study, but to start a connection with their ancestral lands.

Katelyn Lucas, an adjunct instructor of English at Lehigh, is Delaware Nation’s historic preservation officer and will maintain the new office.

Delaware Nation is headquartered in Anadarko, Oklahoma. The Lehigh office will serve as an extension operating space for the nation’s existing historic preservation office staff, stationed in the Lenape homeland region.

The historic preservation office’s mission is to protect and preserve Lenape history, culture, homelands, sacred sites and cultural resources for future generations.

The MOU was signed in the lobby of the Alumni Memorial building by President Joseph J. Helble ’82, Provost Nathan Urban and President of Delaware Nation Deborah Dotson. College of Health Dean Beth Dolan also attended the signing.

MOU Signing

President of Delaware Nation Deborah Dotson and Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble '82 exchange gifts during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Delaware Nation and Lehigh.

“Addressing the oral tradition of Native Americans, (Kiowa novelist) N. Scott Momaday explained that words are intrinsically powerful: ‘Words are spoken with great care, and they are heard. They matter, and they must not be taken for granted; they must be taken seriously, and they must be remembered…,’” Helble said. “Today is a major step toward such remembrance, and Lehigh University is proud to play a part in it.”

Dotson, who is the first elected female president of her nation, thanked Lehigh for working with Delaware Nation and allowing an extension of the historic preservation office to be on campus.

“It’s very important to us to have a presence in Pennsylvania so that we can teach students about our history and they can learn from us,” Dotson said.

The Lenape are indigenous to eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and parts of New York, Connecticut and Maryland. Delaware Nation is one of multiple federally recognized Lenape tribal nations that exist today.

The Lenape were historically removed from their homelands as a result of settler colonialism, which is why their tribal governments and a majority of their citizens are now located outside of their homelands, Lucas explained.

MOU signing

From left: College of Health Dean Beth Dolan, President of Delaware Nation Deborah Dotson, President Joseph J. Helble ’82 and Provost Nathan Urban after exchanging gifts.

Despite a long history of broken treaties and dispossession, these federally recognized Lenape tribal nations have maintained their sovereignty and ongoing relationships to their homelands, Lucas said. These nations work at the federal government-to-government level with the United States for the management and protection of their homelands.

Events leading up to the MOU signing included a meeting between Delaware Nation and Pennsylvania representatives, and the announcement of an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant awarded to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office to engage with tribal communities relocated from Pennsylvania. The IIS will lead the project.

Sean Daley and his research partner and spouse, Christine Mokosky Daley, established the IIS at Lehigh’s College of Health in the fall of 2020. The IIS focuses on improving the health and educational attainment of Native people in the Americas. It employs an “holistic health approach” that aligns with the definition of health often used by Indigenous peoples themselves.

After the MOU signing on Friday, there was an open house at the IIS that featured Indigenous foods and dancing, and a launch of the Daleys’ latest book: “The Complexities of American Indian Identity in the Twenty-First Century.

Story by

Christina Tatu

Photography by

Marcus Smith '25

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