( – promoted by navajo)
On February 17, 2009, the oldest indigenous Native American tribe in New Jersey filed a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey, the Governor of New Jersey, the NJ Secretary of State and the NJ Attorney General for, but not limited to, genocide, treaty, and civil rights violations. That lawsuit is still in Federal Court at this moment. Because of new evidence, the lawsuit has now increased in scope. The territory involved now includes the Island of Manhattan, the state of Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania as well as New Jersey. Holloway’s tribe has now appealed to the UN for assistance, and the case appears as if it may actually move to the World Court.
Unfortunately, in the State Bar Foundation quarterly newsletter Respect, published Spring 2010, the cover story about NJ’s Native Americans repeats the omissions and inaccuracies in the NJ Indian Commission’s Committee report that prompted the lawsuit in the first place. It would appear unethical to have a State Bar Association-funded publication, unwittingly or not, publicly take sides in a currently ongoing litigation case and to quote the defendants’ side of the story exclusively.
The way the article describes only three tribes of Native Americans in New Jersey, makes it obvious why the NJ Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians, headed by Chief Yonaguska Holloway, may not get a fair Federal trial in the State of NJ. Chief Holloway’s tribe, the only indigenous tribe in the state, isn’t even mentioned in the Committee report that the article is based on nor the article itself. Neither is their ally, the Ani Tsalagi Oneselagi Northeastern Band, the Cherokee tribe formed here in the 1830’s, headed by Principal Chief Darius TwoBears Ross.
The article quotes the flawed NJ Commission on American Indian Affairs Committee report on Indian tribes in New Jersey:
“It reflects lingering discrimination, ignorance of state history and culture.”
Interesting take, when you consider that our state history includes former Governors honoring the Sand Hill tribe as far back as the 1940’s when even the Smithsonian listed the Sand Hill as the only indigenous tribe left that still practiced their traditions and arts. The new Committee that came up with those words actually does not acknowledge the Sand Hill at all. The tribe was known and treated as such by NJ State Government UNTIL THE CREATION OF THE NJ COMMISSION that wrote the report that denies they exist.
“whose descendants have lived here peacefully and productively for more than 350 years”.
The actual historical record – archeologically goes back 1500 years to at least the of bones discovered here that are linked by DNA to the current Chief of the Sand Hill tribe. The tribe that the NJ Indian Commission will not admit is indigenous and appears nowhere in this article.
“Reports estimate approximately 20,000 New Jersey citizens belong to one of the three tribes that are indigenous to the state. Those tribes include the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape of Cumberland and Salem Counties, the Powhatan Renape of Burlington County, and the Ramapough Lenape of Mahwah and Ringwood.”
The problem is, the Powhatan and Nanticoke only came to NJ in the 1970’s. These two tribes are NOT indigenous to NJ. John Norwood – a Tribal Councilman of the Nanticokes states:
“We have never looked like the southwestern stereotype. That we never lived in teepees in New Jersey…That Playing Indian by wearing our regalia and misappropriating our cultural and spiritual practices is insulting to many of us.”
Of course they wouldn’t have lived in teepees in NJ. The Nanticokes only moved here in the 1970’s. The 1970’s. It is ironic that the tribe lamenting the misappropriation of their culture moved here in the 1970’s, took the name of Lenape and now appears to be preventing recognition of the Lenape tribe that was already here.
The interesting thing is – the Ramapough, who had been known by the Smithsonian up till the 1970’s as the Jackson Whites, is closer to what the Commission considers “inter-tribal” people – those not in an official tribe. They are a 501.c3 with a CEO – not a Chief. They are a mix of Dutch, African, Lenape, Cherokee, AND Tuscarora. While the Sand Hill are the Lenape – the very folks who were here for not just 350 years – but THOUSANDS of years, who met Henry Hudson in 1609 and then married the Cherokee who migrated here in 1711 after the Cherokee were displaced from the Southern states.
While it may appear heartening on the surface to see a story raising the issue of discrimination against the Native Americans in NJ, it is painfully ironic that this article, in a publication by lawyers, neglects to mention the most egregious case of discrimination against Native Americans in recent history, the alleged attempt to completely erase from NJ history any mention of the two oldest tribes left in NJ. The Smithsonian in 1948 listed the Sand Hill tribe as the only indigenous tribe left in the state of NJ still practicing their customs, language and arts. The Ani Tsalagi are descendents of the Cherokee that migrated here in the early 1700’s as well as those who came to NJ during the Trail of Tears and formed the Ani Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band in the 1830’s. They are not mentioned in the article, while the three “groups” currently represented on the NJ Indian Commission, The Ramapough (not a tribe), Nanticokes (not indigenous), and Powhatan (also not indigenous) are mentioned as though all three are NJ indigenous tribes.
This appears to be an epic case of identity theft. In recent years, the Chief of the Nanticokes – who have attempted to build a casino in Alpine NJ, of all places – accidentally, publicly admitted his tribe only came to NJ only in the 1970’s. The Nanticokes, in fact, came only at the invitation of Sam Beeler, internationally known and respected former Chief of the NJ Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians – and the very man the Nanticokes appear now to deny even knowing.
The Powhatan tribe – which every 4th grader knows as Pocohontas’ tribe – is from Virginia. But, Pocohontas was not a Jersey girl. Again, in proof that no good deed goes unpunished, Sam Beeler was the one who extended an invitation to the Powhatans to set up a home here in NJ – in the 1970’s. They too, now allegedly disavow even knowing the man. To acknowledge him is to perhaps acknowledge that he is telling the truth and that they are NOT indigenous to NJ. (Recently it is rumored that the Powhatans are allegedly under investigation by the IRS for disappearing Federal money that should have gone to the indigenous tribes.)
Now, the Ramapough are quite another story, altogether. The Ramapough were known only as the Jackson Whites until the 1970’s, when Sam Beeler tried to help them also. The Smithsonian in 1948 identified the “Jackson Whites” as a mestizo people, a group who are not a tribe, but a diverse collection of people (Dutch, African, Lenape, Cherokee, AND Tuscarora) who make a group by living in the same place and intermarrying. In the 1970’s, Sam Beeler helped them set up a non-profit organization and gave them a new name. This is when the name Ramapough came to be used to describe the group that had been known as the Jackson Whites even by the Smithsonian, up until the 1970’s.
It appears that the NJ Indian Commission is not concerned about the actual history of the last two real Indian Tribes of NJ, but only the “history” of the 3 “groups” represented on the Commission – groups that are either not indigenous to NJ or not an actual tribe. Autumn Wind Scott, the current Chair of the NJ Indian Commission, who claims Ramapough descent, is quoted extensively throughout the Bar Association’s article.
When I spoke to representatives of the Sand Hill, they said to me “We hope the NJ Indian Commission keeps it up. They are making our case”. The Indian Commission appears to be giving actual proof of the pattern of alleged actions by the State of New Jersey designed to rob the NJ Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians and Ani Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band of their history, heritage, artifacts, and sovereign rights.
How did this get so out of hand? You have to go back at least 10 years. That was when Chief Lone Bear Revey died. Lone Bear for many decades had been the well known public face of the Native Americans in NJ and well known to Trenton as well as the force behind getting the Waterloo Village Lenape display up and running. He was chief of the NJ Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians until shortly before his death in 1998 when he named Sam Beeler to succeed him as Chief and as head of the NJ Indian Office. Lone Bear was barely in the ground before Crazy Horse of the Powhatans pushed to create the NJ Indian Commission, even though Lone Bear’s NJ Indian Office had been serving that role for many, many years – and still is.
In a recent move reminiscent of the battle over schoolbooks in Texas teaching creationism, the NJ Indian Commission appears to be promoting a version of NJ state history to be taught in our schools. The newsletter with the article in question was found in a pile given out in a school.
“Autumn Wind Scott said that efforts are under way to expand the core curriculum standards in New Jersey to include lessons about the history of New Jersey’s indigenous people – a content area that she said is sorely lacking.”
The reason it is sorely lacking is because any version of NJ history that omits the Sand Hill while teaching that the Nanticokes and Powhatan are indigenous to NJ is not history, it is fiction. However, the curriculum Autumn Wind appears to be promoting wipes out the heritage, culture, arts and language of a population of Native American tribal members that still resides in NJ after thousands of years and has never left – the Lenape – as well as our Cherokee tribe whose family members suffered during the Trail of Tears. Native Americans who, it appears, the Commission doesn’t deem fit to even mention, nor give a voice to.
The Committee’s report also
“called out statements by uninformed or bigoted teachers who claim that there are no American Indian tribal groups in New Jersey.”
An ironic statement considering the Committee refuses to acknowledge the two OLDEST tribes in the state.
Not only is the re-education happening in the school arena. The State Archives have also been rumored to be sanitized, and artifacts belonging to the NJ Sand Hill tribe have already been removed from museums. In addition, pressure has been applied – Chief Holloway has been physically threatened, followed, his home broken into, and his brake lines cut. It is alleged that attorneys who initially agreed to take on this case have been threatened with blacklisting for representing Chief Holloway’s tribe. It appears the effort to erase Chief Holloway’s tribe from history extends to the internet as well. Wikipedia has been edited to include only the “groups” on the Commission, and I and other bloggers have been threatened with lawsuits for simply blogging about this case. Other bloggers have also been harassed for being sympathetic to Chief Holloway’s tribe, allegedly by members of the NJ Indian Commission. The folks who threatened lawsuits against me had members of the Commission copied on those emails. I have even found online letters sent to historians around the state that attempt to discredit Chief Holloway’s side of the story. It appears to be a concerted and ham-fisted effort to erase Chief Holloway’s tribe, deliberate and widespread and with a paper trail for these actions going back ten years.
Most recently, I was informed that the Federal Government notified an oil company interested in drilling off the NJ coastline who wanted to speak with Native American tribes, to speak with the only indigenous tribe left – The Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee. However, it appears that someone in Trenton allegedly intervened and excluded Chief Holloway and his tribe from that meeting. (Not surprisingly, a fee of 6 million of dollars was involved.)
According to the article:
“It is believed that changes sought must begin with legislation that officially recognizes the three Native American tribes indigenous to New Jersey. A bill is now pending in the New Jersey legislature that provides official state recognition of these tribes ‘for the limited purpose of assisting these tribes in establishing eligibility for federal education, job training, and housing benefits and federal protection for the sale of artwork and of the right to engage in traditional religious practices and ceremonies.”
The bill mentioned sounds suspiciously like Senator Loretta Weinberg’s bill, which she wrote to give the Sand Hill and the Ani Tsalagi tribes representation on the Commission. The new bill allegedly states boldly that the Ramapough, Nanticokes and Powhatans are indigenous tribes to NJ. None of the tribes on the Commission had to prove their background before being appointed to the Commission. It is rumored that because of the recent Federal investigation into millions of dollars missing that were to go to NJ’s indigenous tribes, under scrutiny, the Powhatans and Nanticokes have finally admitted to the Federal government that they are not indigenous to NJ and have only been here since the 1970’s. What the Commission could not do with the truth or evidence, they appear to be attempting with legislation. The only problem is, when the three “tribes” on the Commission went to the BIA for Federal Recognition ALL THREE TRIBES were turned down because the Powhatans are from Virginia and the Nanticokes from Delaware, and the Ramapough Indians are a non-profit organization, not a tribe.
It also appears that Judge Hayden, the Federal judge who has been allegedly stalling this trial since last year, has taken early retirement, though no one involved in the case has been formally notified. It would appear that the Federal Government has finally stepped in, but they have not reached out directly to Chief Holloway.
As the Federal government appears to play ostrich and while the NJ Indian Commission appears to be re-writing history, the NJ Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians are using this time to gather the evidence they need to make their case that much more ironclad. And as the Federal government appears to drag their feet and avoid the inevitable negotiating table, the stakes get bigger. As members of the NJ Indian Commission continue what appears to be a crazy version of whack-a-mole to eliminate any mention of the two oldest tribes in the state from history as well as the internet (good luck with that one), AND our schools, the case has gone international. The ridiculousness of the situation is that a simple sit-down with President Obama could go a long way toward resolving what is turning into an epic saga. I have met these folks and have been trying to tell their story for 2 years now. They are patient and reasonable people, but everyone has a limit. Justice delayed is justice denied, and as their rights have been trampled ever since they reached out a hand to Henry Hudson 400 years ago, patience is wearing thin.
Many Americans today regret the horrific way the First Americans were treated throughout our history. Here is our Federal government’s chance to make a difference. With the very last Native American tribe left who never subjugated themselves to the Federal Government or signed away their land.