Jersey Shore Has a Deep History of Resilience

Richard Viet talks Lenape history at TEDxNavesink 2013.

See Richard Viet take New Jersey through 12,000 years in less than 18 minutes.

History is Richard Veit’s life’s work. As professor of anthropology at Monmouth University and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, as well as an accomplished author on Native American history, he knows intimately the history of the Native American people in New Jersey.

But it’s Viet’s correlation between the suffering of the ancient people and a current day disaster, through the medium of a folk tale, that puts the resilient character of our state into a new perspective. See Viet take New Jersey through 12,000 years in less than 18 minutes in his TEDxNavesink 2013 talk.

Veit opens his talk giving a brief overview of the history of New Jersey, and the development of the way of life here within this long span of time. He highlights that we often fall into the misconception that our history only started a few hundred years ago, when in fact, it was 12,000.  About 500 years ago, he explains, marked the period of time where approximately 10,000 Native Americans inhabited New Jersey soil – whose story it is that we are about to hear, and that is where his talk truly begins.

“Now I want to change gears a little bit. And I want to tell a Native American folk tale, ” Veit transitions, “recorded in 1813…by a Christiain missionary living with the Lenape in Ohio.”

Veit continues spinning the tale, creating the scene of sitting beside a campfire in Ohio, gathered with the Lenape people, and the missionary asking, “What’s your earliest recollection of meeting a white man?”

He continues to unravel a story of the beginnings of the relationship between the white men and the Native Americans. Nearing the end of the story, he cites, “And the Dutchmen say to them, ‘We’d like to come back.’ And the Lenape say to them, ‘We’d like you to come back.’ And the Dutchmen say ‘We’d like a little land.’ And the Lenape say, ‘Come again?’”

The folk tale ends with the Dutchmen coming back year after year, taking a little more land with each journey, until finally, the Lenape have no land left.

The story leaves us pondering over a part of our history that Americans are not terribly proud of. The tale is a sad one, to say the least. However, Veit chooses to see it in a different light.

As he highlights, not all of the Lenape left after the coming of the white men, and some who did leave, came back. Veit emphasizes the role the Native Americans have played and continue to play in our community.

“Their story is one of survival and of persistence in the face of an ever-changing world,” he explains.

The Lenape’s story of survival and persistence, Viet believes, is a model for the modern state hit so hard in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy.

“Many of us are residents of Monmouth County, and this past year, we went through something really horrific, but we have survived. And I think the Lenape can be an inspiration for us all as we move forward and rebuild.”

To hear more talks like Richard Veit’s, join us May 10 at Two River Theater in Red Bank at TEDxNavesink 2014: PLAY. We’ll be hosting 24 presenters who harness the positive power of play everyday in technology, education, design and more. Limited tickets available for this all day event, which includes catered lunch, networking opportunities and evening reception. Click here to get your ticket.