Working with the Keepers of the Land: Creating Partnerships for Preservation and Management
In April 1998, Assistant Chief Clark asked for and received permission to conduct a vision quest at Thompson’s Island, a known Native American cemetery located in Thompson Island Preserve, part of Delaware Seashore State Park. A nighttime incident involving
trespassers in the preserve, which is closed between sunset and 8:00 am, disrupted the vision quest. This marked the beginning of a highly contentious process, exacerbated by intertribal politics and personality confl icts. Negotiations over the next two years resulted in the development of an agreement in which the Nanticoke Indian Association became partners with the Division of Parks and Recreation in the preservation of the cemetery and associated settlement. The Thompson Island Preserve, which had been closed to the public throughout this process, was reopened with an impressive ceremony. A year later, a master plan for Thompson Island Preserve was completed and accepted by the Division and the Nanticoke Indian Association. This master plan is designed to provide for limited public access to Thompson’s Island itself while protecting the cemetery and the archaeological resources on the island and in the preserve. In the end, the completion of this process set the stage for the later development of an inclusive process for discussing American Indian issues with all of the ‘Keepers of the Land’ in Delaware. The remainder of this chapter will discuss both the issues involved in the development of the master plan for the Thompson Island Preserve and the development of this more inclusive process, beginning with a brief overview of the communities included in the term Keepers of the Land as it is used here.