The Ramapough-Lenape Nation are having a good week. The original inhabitants of northern New Jersey and downstate New York are officially recognized by the state of New Jersey as an American Indian Tribe.
The legal settlement allows the tribe to qualify for all federal and state benefits like grants and scholarships, which the tribe were previously denied while their status was being disputed. The Powhatan Renape Nation of southern New Jersey was also officially recognized by the state. “Tribal rights are significant rights, and we are glad that, through good faith negotiation, we’ve been able to reach an accord with both the Powhatan and Ramapough nations. These two tribes can now move forward without concern that state-level recognition issues will in any way impede their progress,” said state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
On Monday, the Ramapough people also got word that state and federal agencies have ruled in their favor in their lawsuit against the town of Mahwah.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a “statement of interest” Monday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey supporting a lawsuit by the Ramapough Mountain Indians saying the township violated the tribe’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 by “interfering with religious assembly on property the tribe owns in the township.” It said Mahwah “has imposed a substantial burden on the Ramapoughs’ religious exercise without adequate justification and has not treated its use of the land equally with nonreligious uses of the land.”. There has been on ongoing battle between the town and the tribe over their ability to openly practice their religion, prayer poles and tepees on their 13.9-acre site. Mahwah has gone as far as fining the tribe an exorbitant amount of money for the religious structures.
“It is absolutely wonderful that New Jersey decided to do the right thing and take the high road,” said Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry. “For ethics, morals, kindness and understanding.” State and federal agencies will be notified of the recognition status for the two tribes in April.
There has been much publicity about the incredible Ramapough struggle for their rights, last year the New York Times wrote a piece titled Ramapoughs vs. the World, which is a great read. New Jersey has clearly taken a large step in the right direction and it’s about time.
We will keep you posted as this story evolves.