…a forum for the discussion of political, social and economic issues affecting the indigenous peoples of the United States, including their lack of political representation, economic deprivation, health care issues, and the on-going struggle for preservation of identity and cultural history
On February 17, 2009, the oldest indigenous Native American tribe in NJ filed a lawsuit against the State of NJ, Governor Corzine, and his Administration, as well as the NJ Commission on American Indian Affairs. That lawsuit is still in Federal Court at this moment and has NOT been dismissed.
In fact, the scope of the case has expanded exponentially. As of a new filing on June 16, 2010, the territory now includes the Island of Manhattan & Hudson areas, the State of Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania as well as New Jersey.
The NJ Sand Hill Band of Lenape & Cherokee Indians (the Sand Hill) headed by Chief Yonaguska Holloway has appealed to the UN for assistance. The UN is now representing the tribe and the case may actually move to The Hague if the tribe does not get justice through the American courts and through negotiations with the United States.
Judge Hayden, the Federal Judge who allegedly has been stalling this trial since last year, has taken early retirement, although no one involved in the case has been formally notified.
It’s rumored that the Federal government has finally stepped in, but they have not reached out directly to Chief Holloway. As the Federal government appears to drag their feet and avoid the inevitable negotiating table, the stakes are getting bigger.
The Sand Hill are using this time to gather the evidence they need to make their case that much more ironclad. Just over the past few months they have gathered more evidence of their claim not only to NJ but Manhattan, Delaware, and Eastern PA.
What began as a lawsuit in one state is morphing into the largest land claim ever made by Native Americans and is precedent-setting for the rest of the Indian Nations. The problem confronting the Federal Government appears to be their inability to figure out how to even begin approaching this matter with the Sand Hills.
The ridiculousness of the situation is that a simple sit-down with President Obama over iced tea and pizza could go a long way towards resolving what is turning into a territorial crisis for the United States.
The Sand Hill are a 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 year ago, their patience is now wearing thin.
It appears that the sheer magnitude of the situation is preventing any progress at all. But like any other overwhelming problem, resolutions often begin with a simple conversation.
So far, only one NJ Congressman’s office (Congressman Steve Rothman) has had the foresight to contact representatives of the Sand Hill after Chief Holloway’s speech at the United Nations. On three separate occasions thereafter, the Sand Hill Government Liaison contacted Rothman’s office. The last time was to notify the Congressman of the latest filing and to request a meeting with him. As of this writing there has been no acknowledgement of receiving either the motion or the request.
It might behoove the Congressman, as this is an election year, to get ahead of the situation, and score a political coup by meeting with Chief Holloway as a first step towards getting the Federal Government to the table without pressure from the United Nations.
I am seriously advising my elected officials to meet with Chief Holloway while his hand is still outstretched. I have interviewed Chief Holloway about this many times over the past two years. He has always been and still is willing to discuss this matter with the appropriate Federal officials in order to reach a reasonable conclusion.
In that speech, it was revealed that this is the first time that a state in the US is being held accountable for the actions of its leadership regarding Native Americans. That fact drew much attention the week of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Sand Hill Tribe is the last continuously operating Lenape tribe left in the state of New Jersey. It is one of the last “first contact” tribes left on the Eastern seaboard. The stakes are enormous.
When Chairman Holloway met with the Special Rapporteur, he was informed that the UN is willing to represent Chairman Holloway and his Tribe – The NJ Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians, and will reach out to the US Leadership to set up a meeting to negotiate a settlement. The Rapporteur also promised to represent Chairman Yonaguska Holloway and his tribe, if necessary, at the Hague.
This story, which we have been trying to tell for the past 2 years is finally big enough to get the press it deserved all along. This case could go all the way to the World Court if the Federal Government continues to deny justice by delaying it indefinitely. According to Chairman Holloway, “Now the case in in the hands of the world. We will see what the world thinks.”
On April 20, 2010, Chief Yonaguska Holloway of the New Jersey Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians was invited to address the Assembly at the UN. I have been blogging about his case for the past two years. In February of 2009, Chief Holloway filed a lawsuit on behalf of his tribe because the State of New Jersey is trying to write them out of existence along with the Ani Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band (the oldest Cherokee tribe in NJ) and the federal judge appears to be stalling the case on purpose. The following is the entire text of Chief Holloway’s speech:
“Over sixty years ago, the General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Afterward, the Country members were called upon to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read, and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories .” It is this very reason I stand here before you today. The violation of basic human rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Over six hundred years ago, my ancestors lived and thrived along the shores of what is now the eastern seaboard of the United States of America. The New Jersey Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians are the direct lineal descendants of the original inhabitants of the land now known as the State of New Jersey. Human remains, dating back almost two thousand years have been uncovered in this area. DNA testing of these remains has linked them to me personally.
We are a sovereign people, as were our ancestors at the time of the arrival of the first Europeans. First the Dutch, then later, the British. This is testified to by the fact that the early Europeans entered into and signed treaties with us, sovereign to sovereign. These treaties kept certain rights unto us, including land, water, hunting, fishing and coastal areas being amongst them. The United States, at the end of the Revolutionary War, as part of the agreement to end hostilities, agreed to honor and maintain these international treaties by accepting to act as a trustee. They even went as far as to enact federal legislation to ensure that our rights would be protected.
However, by 1802, the newly formed “State” of New Jersey had completely disregarded these treaties and federal laws, and most importantly, our basic human rights to even exist. Over the next few decades, in an unsolicited invasion, our ancestral lands were seized, our people forcibly removed or slaughtered. Those that survived were forced into hiding, in and around the lands that for millennium sustained us. Not only were federal laws completely ignored by New Jersey, but they had no legal right to even act as a state, as they had not ratified their own state constitution until 1842. All the while, the United States Federal Government turned a blind eye toward us, refusing to exercise their trust relationship with us that they had decades before accepted.
As the only remaining “First Contact” Indian people on the eastern seaboard to legally address this gross misconduct, the stakes are very high. We claim rights to the land and vast natural resources along the entire coastline of New Jersey, inland to the Delaware River. Our ancestral home for thousands of years include, what is now called Port Elizabeth, Newark, Atlantic City, and Trenton. Just to name a few. Also of importance is the fact that under these seized lands lies the largest fresh water quifer along the north east seaboard. Other “First Contact” tribes have settled their claims after decades of legal battles, but none have had the tremendous impact of ours.
After years of failed attempts to reconcile with the State of New Jersey, we were forced to take the state to Federal Court to prove our claim. Unfortunately, because of the magnitude and the implications of the case, it has been purposely stalled and ignored in an attempt to defraud us and dispense with our international treaty rights. We have even, in the course of the case, brought forth evidence that the State of New Jersey itself, in court, legal opinion and internal documents, admits that our lands have been seized illegally. Various major archaeologists, universities, historians and other specialists are in agreement as to our claim and rights.
It is not our intention to interfere with the continuity of the United State, or its national security. However, it is our intention to take every avenue available to us up to and including international intervention, and the World Court if necessary.
It is the very existence of our people that it at stake. And we have no intention of going into the night quietly! I stand here to ask the international community for its support, assistance in whatever manner available to assist us in having our International rights respected and restored.
It is our hope & prayer that this astute body and the global community will hear our long suppressed cry, and come to our aid!”
After Chief Yonaguska Holloway delivered his speech and the lunch break, U. S. Ambassador Susan Rice, in a moving speech, reiterated some of the points Chief Holloway had made earlier that day when he addressed the audience of Indigenous Leaders.
The ambassador announced that the U.S. is reconsidering its position on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights immediately on the heels of New Zealand’s reversal of its previous denial of the same rights. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Australia and New Zealand reversed their decisions. The US and Canada are the only two countries left that have not reversed their position to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples in their countries.
Ambassador Rice’s statement was met by a standing ovation by Chief Holloway’s Entourage, various Chiefs of the Iroquois Nations and other Indigenous Nations who were in attendance during the General Assembly of the United Nations.
For more information on the UN Forum on Indigenous People:
Here is the text of Ambassador Rice’s speech at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, April 20, 2010
“In his Presidential Proclamation last fall honoring Native American Heritage Month, President Obama recognized that the “indigenous peoples of North America–the First American–have woven rich and diverse threads into the tapestry of our Nation’s heritage.” What is true in the Americas is true around the world. There is no true history that does not take into account the story of indigenous populations–their proud traditions, their rich cultures, and their contributions to our shared heritage and identity.
But in the United States and many other parts of the world, indigenous communities continue to feel the heavy hand of history. Our first nations face serious challenges: disproportionate and dire poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, health care gaps, violent crime, and bitter discrimination. Far more must be done–at home and abroad–to tackle these challenges, expand the circle of opportunity, and work with our Native communities to ensure they enjoy the security and dignity that all citizens deserve.
President Obama is deeply committed to strengthening and building on government-to-government relationships among the United States and our tribal governments. Our Administration has moved quickly to launch programs to improve the lives of Native Americans. Shortly after his inauguration, the President appointed my colleague, Kimberly Teehee, as his Native American policy advisor and began extensive outreach to tribal leaders. In November of last year, President Obama invited representatives from each of our 564 Indian tribes in the United States to attend a White House Tribal Nations Conference. Nearly 500 tribal leaders participated–the most widely attended White House tribal meeting with the President, Cabinet Secretaries, senior officials, and members of Congress in U.S. history. The President signed a Memorandum on November 5, 2009, directing every federal agency to develop plans to implement fully the Executive Order on “Consultation and Coordination with Tribal Governments,” which mandates that all agencies have an accountable process for meaningful and timely input by tribal officials in the development of regulatory policies that have tribal implications. The level of tribal consultation is now at historic levels–marking a new era in the United States’ relationship with tribal governments.
Last month, President Obama signed a historic reform of the U.S. health care system that includes important provisions to reduce the gaping health care disparities that Native Americans still face. Signing and implementing this landmark law constitutes a major step toward fulfilling our national responsibility to provide high-quality, affordable health care to all citizens, including American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The U.S. government has also made improving public safety in tribal communities a high priority. The Department of Justice supports an initiative to hire more Indian country Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute cases of violent crime on Native lands. This initiative will also provide additional federal agents to support law-enforcement efforts in tribal communities. Combating crimes involving violence against women and children on Native lands is a particularly high priority for the U.S. government.
Last year, in the face of a global economic crisis, President Obama took swift action to spur economic activity and create new jobs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act specifically allocates more than $3 billion to assist tribal communities. These funds are being used to renovate schools on reservations across the country, to create new jobs in tribal economies, improve housing, support health care facilities, and bolster policing services. The President’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request also proposes a 5 percent increase in federal funding for Native American programs, to a total of $18.5 billion.
The United States also supports programs that help indigenous communities around the world. We are especially committed to promoting corporate social responsibility, particularly with extractive industries whose operations can so dramatically affect the living conditions of indigenous peoples. The United States has therefore engaged in a multi-stakeholder initiative to encourage firms to operate safely within a framework that fully respects the rights of surrounding communities. We support the Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon, a regional program designed to strengthen indigenous efforts to protect and conserve the Amazon Rainforest. In Peru, our common efforts focus on the conservation of the Manu National Parks, together with the Yanesha and Ashaninka peoples, by providing training in sustainable resource management and expanding environmental conservation capacity. The United States also participates fully and actively in the Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum of the eight Arctic states where Arctic indigenous peoples — represented by Permanent Participant organizations — have a co-equal role.
Consistent with President Obama’s call for a new era of U.S. engagement with the world, the United States applauds the Permanent Forum’s efforts to raise awareness of issues affecting the world’s indigenous peoples and to generate ideas for substantially improving their livelihoods and communities.
Thus today, I am pleased to announce that the United States has decided to review our position regarding the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We recognize that, for many around the world, this Declaration provides a framework for addressing indigenous issues. During President Obama’s first year in office, tribal leaders encouraged the United States to reexamine its position on the Declaration–an important recommendation that directly complements our commitment to work together with the international community on the many challenges that indigenous peoples face. We will be conducting a formal review of the Declaration and the U.S. position on it. And as we move ahead, we look forward to consulting extensively with our valued and experienced colleagues in the federally recognized Indian tribes and interested nongovernmental organizations.
While many steps have been taken in the Administration’s first year, we are not satisfied. We seek to continue to work together with our partners in indigenous communities to provide security, prosperity, equality, and opportunity for all. There is no American history without Native American history. There can be no just and decent future for our nation that does not directly tackle the legacy of bitter discrimination and sorrow that the first Americans still live with. And America cannot be fully whole until its first inhabitants enjoy all the blessings of liberty, prosperity, and dignity. Let there be no doubt of our commitment. And we stand ready to be judged by the results. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
Here is the official website for Healing Turtle Island. The video is now up from the Reconciliation Ceremony between the Dutch Collegiate Church and three of the last Lenape tribes that took place in lower Manhattan on November 27, 2009.
In lower Manhattan, on what will now be known as Native American Heritage Day, November 27, 2009, in front of the Museum of the American Indian, a historical event centuries in the making occurred as the Collegiate Church, formerly known as the Dutch Reformed Church, apologized to three of the four Lenape tribes left – NJ The Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians, the Oklahoma Delaware, and the Lenape of Ontario, Canada, the Munsee.
The irony is that the very same NJ tribe that the Collegiate Church apologized to, and the one recognized by the State Department of the Federal Government and the Obama Administration, is the very same one that the State of NJ and its Commission on Indian Affairs REFUSES to recognize as indigenous and is attempting to write OUT of history. History 400 years in the making was taking place in lower Manhattan while a few miles west across the Hudson, 12,000 years of history was being systematically, ruthlessly, maliciously erased.
The NJ Commission on American Indian Affairs needs to do some explaining. The Chair of the NJ Commission is a Ramapough, who are Tuscarora in origin, with Cherokee and Lenape having married into the tribe. Also represented on the NJ Commission are the Nanticoke, who are from what is now the state of Delaware, who arrived here in the 1970’s and the Powhatan, from Virginia, also new (1970s) arrivals. Conspicuous by their absence from the NJ Commission are the two oldest tribes in NJ, the Lenape – who are revered in song and story from one end of the state to the other because they were the original inhabitants of NJ going back 12,000 years, and the Cherokee tribe here since 1830, whose relatives walked the Trail of Tears. These two tribes have been ignored and lied to by the very Commission which is supposed to represent them. The Chiefs of both tribes have been requesting since the Commission was formed a decade ago, to be represented. Even the Governor has refused their request. This is what has prompted the Sand Hill Band to file a lawsuit in February which Judge Haden appears to have allegedly stalled in Federal District Court in Newark to this day.
One of the members of the Church happened to be a Ramapough Indian and was a speaker. However, because the Ramapough had been invited to attend, the last remaining Lenape tribe left on Long Island – the Shinnecock – refused to come to the event. The reason being was that they do not consider the Ramapough a Lenape Tribe. To understand how large the rift is now between the last Lenape tribes here and the Ramapough, consider that the Shinnecock did not want to give the current Ramapough even the appearance of legitimacy as a Lenape tribe. The difference between the two is as different as Italy is from Russia. The Lenape are Algonquin while the Tuscarora are Iroquois. Different customs, different language, different culture. Over the years Cherokee and Lenape married into the Ramapough tribe as did the Dutch, but the fact that the Ramapough are passing themselves off as a Lenape “nation”, is quite offensive to the last true Lenape tribes left in NY and NJ. The Shinnacock would not bear the insult.
It is ironic that a chosen few of the Ramapough would attempt to prevent any recognition whatsoever of the Lenape grandfather tribe in NJ, while passing themselves off as a Lenape “nation”, and again, quite offensive. The fact that the State of NJ allegedly is going along with the charade is beyond the pale as well as costing the taxpayers over 25 million dollars to date.
And so, while history was being made in NYC, just across the river in NJ, history was being undone, erased, and a revisionist history being jammed into place to benefit a few, unscrupulous folks who appear to be allegedly committing identity theft on a huge scale. They are even using the internet to wage their misinformation campaign. Wikipedia has even been changed to leave out the Sand Hill altogether and erroneously states that NJ has three recognized tribes – which, according to Governor Corzine, it doesn’t.
We arrived by ferry and walked to the Bowling Green in front of the old Customs House which now houses the Museum of the American Indian. The sky was gray and the wind was picking up, but thankfully the rain held off. The covered stage was set up in the plaza with a huge color backdrop of what Manhattan had looked like before the Dutch came. It had been a beautiful sea of green forest with a few small smoke plumes from Lenape villages visible. It was truly beautiful. The name of the event was “Healing Turtle Island”, which is what the Lenape called the land. Facing the stage were 200 folding white chairs that would seat the families of the Church members and the Tribal Chiefs and elders.
Despite the absence of the Shinnecock, it was a happy reunion for many of the participants. Chief Darius J. TwoBears Ross of the Ani~Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band – a cousin tribe and ally to the Sand Hills, arrived with his tribal members, elders and family. In attendance was ShadowWalker, Red Chief of the Ani~Tsalagi, tribal elder Ed TwoBears Peart and his family and Tribal Elder Diane BlueSkyLenapeWoman Crawford, who was a Ramapough and who is now a member of the Ani~Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band.
Then the Sand Hill members started to arrive. I met Principal Chief MedicineCrow Holloway and his family including his son, Chairman Ron Yonaguska Holloway, who would give the keynote address. Arleen Richards, great granddaughter of Chief Crummel of the Sand Hill was also present with her family. There was also tribal elder Yvonne Dennis, the children’s book author, Also in attendance were two Delaware tribal representatives who came all the way from Bartesville, Oklahoma, Curtis Zingha, and Carmen McKosato Ketcher, as well as Lenape from Ontario Canada, The Munsee.
It was a virtual who’s who of NJ’s Lenape and Cherokee tribal elders and chiefs. It was wonderful to see them all in one place. There were smiles and hugs all around. These were the first contact Lenape Nations (The Sand Hills, The Delaware from OK, The Munsee from Canada) who had suffered the most from the discovery of the New World. The speeches by the Oklahoma Delaware and the Sand Hill about forgiveness would be the most emotional and touching of all the addresses at the event.
To the curiosity of many, Dwayne Perry, CEO of the Ramapough, was also in attendance. Recently the Court had ruled that the Ramapough are no longer a tribe but simply a non profit 501.c3. They must have their election this coming June and it will be closely monitored. Allegedly, days before the last election, when Perry was named Chief, nearly 25 families were kicked out of the Ramapough tribe and not allowed to vote until two weeks AFTER the election when they were re-instated. It reminded me of a BCDO election under Joe Ferriero. The very sad part of the whole Ramapough story, is that there are Lenape members of this “Tuscarora” tribe and they are related to the Sand Hill.
At 11 am, the event began. The drum circle included half a dozen tribal members singing in strong, clear voices while striking a single large drum with large sticks, buffered by soft cloth at the ends. The strength and power of the vocals struck me. It was mesmerizing and incredibly stirring.
The blessing came first, then a description of what Manahatta was like before Henry Hudson arrived. The Church members described their role in the settling of New Amsterdam, and why we were here this day. The Church representative publicly apologized for their painful role in the exploitation of the resources of this new world and the resultant displacement and suffering of the Lenape people.
Chairman Ronald Yonaguska Holloway accepted the apology on behalf of the Lenape in an eloquent speech that ended with a promise of hope for the future. Rev. Chase, a descendent of the very first Dutch child born here in the New World, then embraced Ron Holloway, the son of the current Principal Chief of the Sand Hill, in a symbolic gesture of forgiveness.
The representatives of the Bartesville Oklahoma Delaware followed, explaining that the Lenape thought that no one could own land – it would be like owning the wind – recounted how the misunderstandings began. The Lenape from Oklahoma then spoke of forgiveness and how it was freeing. In a symbolic gesture of peace, they brought the Church elders wampum beads that recorded this event. The son of the Oklahoma Delaware representative and the daughter of a Church elder then exchanged necklaces in a show of harmony for the future.
Chief MedicineCrow Holloway of the Sand Hill and his son, Chairman Ron Yonaguska Holloway played a haunting flute and drum piece written especially for the occasion by Chief Holloway, a gifted, critically acclaimed musician. The haunting melody evoked the spiritual feeling of the day, sorrowful remembrance, but beauty as well. The softness and clarity of a message waiting to be heard by those of us willing to finally listen. Elegant in its simplicity.
The theme spoken of again and again was the future and where to go from here. We have changed each other forever, but while the Church admitted to regrettably imposing their will on their “brothers and sisters”, they called now for learning FROM the Lenape on how to live sustainably and care for Creation. Creation was a repeated idea throughout the day. It is the central idea that both the Church and the Lenape have most in common. The Lenape creation story of the land being created from the back of a turtle was invoked. Creation should be the common ground going forward. How we protect and cherish our natural world and each other.
Outside in the windy day, with the Hudson’s waters lapping against the shoreline nearby, the grey sky showing nature’s power over us, it somehow made sense that this event was not held indoors. The Lenape have always revered the earth, and perhaps that is what held the rain back that day. The sun broke through at the end of the event while the public and the elders of the Church and the tribes shared steaming cups of bison chili with cornbread. Yvonne Dennis shared her books with crowd eager to learn more about Native Americans. The drum circle that had begun the day’s events played on as we all shared in the meal together and got to all know each other better.
Somehow I could imagine the Creator up there, smiling.
For a Timeline of the Sand Hill saga, here is my Blue Jersey diary:
What you all can do: There are bills stalled in Committee in the NJ legislature right now that would rectify this travesty of justice by giving seats on the NJ Commission on American Indian Affairs to Reps of the Sand Hill Band and the Ani Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band. CALL and WRITE to your representatives and tell them to support Senator Loretta Weinberg’s bill.