Chiefs resign from Nanticoke Indian Association

By Jim Cresson

15 March 2002

READ THE CAPE GAZETTE Covering Delaware's Cape Region


Front page photo

  Keith Mosher photo  

  Chief Kenneth "Red Deer" Clark, left, and Assistant Chief Charles "Little Owl" Clark stroll family land on the banks of Indian River after resigning.  

For the 120 years that the Nanticoke Indians of Indian River have been a state-recognized tribe, there always have been disagreements between tribal families and relatives within families.
Until recently, none of those disagreements have been severe enough to tear the tribe apart and cause its chiefs to resign their leadership positions.
"Over the last few years, the Nanticoke Indian Association has become a place of constant in-fighting pitting families against families without considering what is best for the tribe as a whole," stated Chief Kenneth S. "Red Deer" Clark Sr. after he resigned the position he has held for 31 years. "Many of the members have lost sight of what it means to be an Indian, which has led to a continued deterioration of behavior and integrity within the Nanticoke Indian Association."

After Chief Clark resigned during a monthly meeting attended by nearly 50 tribal members, his son, Assistant Chief Charles C. "Little Owl" Clark IV resigned. Half the members in the meeting hall left with the chiefs, expressing their honor and respect for the leaders whose family have produced tribal chiefs for the past century and a half.

"I think the people did the chiefs wrong," said Cecile Coursey. "We had just finished voting them back in office, and now a certain group in the tribe has brought this about. It's bad and it's getting worse all the time."

Chief Clark explained what led to his decision. "This has been brewing since 1991. There's a certain element in the tribe that doesn't support our leadership. Most of them are what I call two-day-a-year Indians. They only come out at Powwow time and then we don't see them the rest of the year. They want things changed. They want the Powwow to be a big commercial event, and they don't want to volunteer to do any of the work."

Because of the mounting rebellious attitude among some tribal members, the Clarks and many of their supporters boycotted the 2001 Powwow. The tribe had to hire a storyteller and emcee to perform the two-day functions that the chiefs had traditionally performed.

What will result from the chiefs' resignations? People close to the issue can only speculate.

"I think the Nanticoke Indian Association will hang on for a few months and then fade away," said Coursey. "Without the chiefs to lead the association, I don't want to go back. Many of us feel that way. We don't like what's happened."

Chief Clark was unsure what to expect from the schism within the tribe. "When I walked out the door after I resigned, I did it for good. I have no interest in starting a new group. I'm sort of waiting to see if the tribe comes to its senses."

Little Owl Clark said he is sure there will be a new Nanticoke group to emerge from the ashes of the old group. He said it will focus on maintaining traditional Indian ways. "We'll have public events each year, but they won't get so commercial as the Powwow," he said. "We will invite the public to our Sundance in June; we will hold public sweats and other Indian activities throughout the year."

And the Clarks both said they intend to remain active in issues that are important to the Nanticokes, as well as issues regarding Native Americans elsewhere.

"In one way, this is a huge weight off our shoulders," said Little Owl. "It's like cutting a sprig off an old willow tree and planting it to grow into a strong willow of its own. I have lots of hope."

Copyright 1997-

All rights reserved.
Not to be used for commercial purposes.