Worldviews in Action: Diplomacy

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Worldviews in Action: Diplomacy

Using the concept of worldview, this activity looks at how differences between Indians and Europeans informed early negotiations between the groups, which involved moving back and forth between differential understandings of property, language and writing, social customs, and notions of reciprocity. Students will look at the nuts and bolts of diplomatic language in land treaties and negotiations.

Essential Questions

How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?
How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to Pennsylvania society?


• Understand how life on the frontier brought diverse individuals into contact with one another and how individuals’ identities and lives were changed as a result of that contact.
• Understand how these differences shaped interactions such as diplomacy and land transactions.

Other Materials

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1. Review the document of the conference at Fort Augusta in 1763. Ask students to notice what patterns they see in the document: What terms or phrases are repeated?  What words is Telonemat using? What is his attitude and style?  What else seems important in the document?

2. Using the Diplomatic Patterns worksheet, outline the differences perceived between Native Americans and Europeans in both sources. Discuss specific practices represented in the conference testimony and the West engraving, such as the exchange of wampum and the transcribing of treaties.  How do these practices differ from one another as a means of making agreements or contracts?  What assumptions about property, social relationships, time and space are embedded in each practice?  How might misunderstanding arise between the two groups? Observations/comparisons might include:

  • Indians relied primarily on oratory and oral testimony; Europeans relied on written documents -- the Europeans in the engraving are writing everything down, for example.
  • Both groups had to rely on interpreters in their negotiations
  • Europeans believed property can be bought and sold for money; Native Americans exchanged goods and ideas for wampum
  • Europeans saw themselves engaging in a definitive diplomatic or trade exchange; Native Americans saw themselves as forging an ongoing relationship with negotiators, using terms like "Brother."

3. Read and review the 1700 Deed to the Susquehanna River.  Framing questions for reading might include: What did it mean to “sell” the river? What are the terms of the sale – what was exchanged for the river? Do you think the Indians actually thought they were selling the river itself?  If not, what do you think they were exchanging?   Have students discuss the implications of this deed in light of what we know about Native American and European worldview concerning land and property.  What misunderstandings might arise between the two groups with these different understandings? How might these misunderstandings shape the relationship between the two groups?

Here the key point is to communicate that Native Americans had a different conception of property than Europeans with whom they made land deals. In Lenape practice, rights were held in land or property based on use rights versus absolute rights. Thus, in Native worldview, use rights could be held by more than one entity, a concept at odds with western notions of property rights.  The concept of actually "owning"  a piece of land would have been foreign to Lenape conceptions of the nature of reality.

4. Discuss the implications of cultural worldview for how we experience cultural differences now.


Have students stage a diplomatic conference between Native leaders and representatives of the Penn government, with students taking on different roles within the scenario: Native leaders from different tribes, negotiators, government and military representatives. After conference, have students discuss: What issues?  Perceptions of each party? Diplomatic practices of each? How do you talk to one another? What kind of understanding can you come to?  What treaty terms can you negotiate?


Negotiator: an individual who has the authority to represent or speak for a nation or other entity during a diplomatic conference or other process whereby diverse parties resolve disputes, agree upon courses of action, or bargain for advantage

Petition: request to an authority, most often in the form of a document addressed to a government official and signed by numerous individuals.

Squatter: someone who occupies an unoccupied or abandoned land that the individual does not own.

Walking Purchase: name given to an agreement made in 1737 between the Penn family and the Delawares that resulted in the Indians feeling cheated out of land.