Ask Dan 1 – Native Americans, Delaware Tribe of Indians, the Americas, and Freethought

by | October 8, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Daniel Edwin Barker is an American atheist activist and former evangelical Christian preacher and musician. He is the Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation with Annie Laurie Gaylor and the Co-Host of Freethought Radio, and a Co-Founder of The Clergy Project. He is the author of Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide for Young Skeptics (1990), Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong: A Guide for Young Thinkers (1992), Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (1992), Just Pretend (2002), Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (2008), The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God (2011), Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning (2015), GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction (2016), and Free Will Explained: How Science and Philosophy Converge To Create a Beautiful Illusion (2018). Barker is a member of the Algonquian-speaking Lenni Lenape Tribe or, more formally based on the official name, the Delaware Indians/Delaware Tribe of Indians (primarily named for being on the banks of the Delaware River rather than the state of Delaware) of Native Americans. Also, if interested, he is a member of the 4-sigma Prometheus Society. In this educational series, we will discuss some pre-American history, American history, and the ways in which freethought fits into this framework.

Here we talk about some personal background relevant to the series and start with some of the general pre-American history of freethought.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: As this is intended as an educational series, the main framework will focus on personal heritage as a foundation to some of this series, as well as building into some of the Native American history relevant to the freethought communities today – and probably largely unknown to much of the freethought people of modern America. If we look at personal history, many in the freethought and secular communities in North America, perhaps, do not know about the personal heritage of one of the most prominent freethought men in the region. That is to say, you have Native American heritage, in general, and come from a line connected to the Lenni Lenape Tribe or the formal title of Delaware Indians, in particular. When was this found out for you?

Dan Barker: I have known this my entire life. We are enrolled members of the tribe, I have been carrying my (now battered) membership card since childhood. My ancestors have been members of the tribe since . . . who knows . . . prehistoric times. My Dad’s paternal grandmother was granddaughter of the last principal chief Ketchum. I tell the story in the book Paradise Remembered, a collection of my GrandDad’s memories.

Jacobsen: Did this impact personal outlook or professional work as an extremely prominent freethought person in North America?

Barker: I have always been sensitive to the plight of abused and colonized peoples, especially at the hands of Christian invaders.

Jacobsen: If we look at the history of the Delaware Indians, what have been the traditions and spiritualities of the community over time insofar as members of the community, anthropologists, and historians can discern about it?

Barker: I don’t know any more than what the history books tell about the tribe’s religious practices at the time of the arrival of the Europeans. I do know that the Lenape (Delaware) tribe was Christianized in the 1830s by Mennonites and Baptists when they lived on a reservation in Kansas. Since that time, most members of the tribe have considered themselves Christians . . . to the point that there now exists a Christian cross on the tribal seal. [Ed. Dan wrote about this in an article entitled “Your View by Lenni Lenape member: Why Lehigh County seal is a ‘symbol of white colonialism’.”]

Jacobsen: Were there explicit traditions or, at least, threads of freethought within the traditions and spiritualities of the community over time, and into the present?

Barker: I don’t know if there was any freethought movement within the tribe. I do know that at least two of us today are atheists.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dan. 

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-booksfree or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Image Credit: Jim Hughes (2010).

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