Native Sun News: Film tackles tribal recognition controversy

The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Ramapough tribal members singing at the drum. Photo courtesy American Native

Black Hills Film Festival tackles tribal recognition
Are the Ramapough Lenape really Indians?
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

HILL CITY –– As part of the folklore and community mythology in New York and New Jersey for many is the saying, “Don’t go in to the mountains, because the ‘Jackson Whites’ will get you.”

This reference is made from an old term referring to freed slaves as “jacks” which morphed into “jacks & whites” and eventually became a derogatory name for a small group of tribal people- the Ramapough Lenape Nation based 30 miles outside of New York City.

Many of these tribal members have the physical appearance of black-Indians.

During the 2015 Black Hills Film Festival held May 6-10 in Hill City and Rapid City, the documentary film “American Native” will be presented on Fri. May 8 at 1 p.m. in Hill City at the Harley-Davidson Theater.

The film details the efforts of Ramapough Lenape Nation’s fight for federal recognition and sovereign right and provides an in depth look at the complex past, volatile present and endangered future of their people.

Thirty miles from New York City, tucked away in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey, lives a forgotten indigenous people shrouded in mystery and discrimination, fighting for acceptance as Native Americans – The Ramapough Mountain Indians.

“American Native” exposes this group’s efforts to gain recognition as a Native American tribe from the Federal government and the private interests that may have colluded behind the scenes to prevent them from doing so.

Through expert interviews and unbridled access to the micro-community, the film provides an in-depth look at the Ramapough Lenape Nation.


Native Sun News interviewed film producer Corey Bobker who discussed the Ramapough’s plight for recognition and discussed details including their initial application in 1978 which, twenty years later in 1998 was heard by the Supreme Court.

The application for recognition was denied and ultimately got turned down because, according to Bobker, “They can’t prove which tribe they belong to. They were recognized as being Native American but ultimately did not know from which tribe they were from.”

Director Steven Orrit will be in Hill City for the presentation of “American Native” during the Black Hills Film Festival. Orrit spoke with NSN and felt he was compelled to tell the story because the Ramapough “have been under the guise of this strange urban legend for centuries.”

One of the questions most commonly asked of Director Orrit is whether or not he believes the Ramapough are Indians. He replies, “If you can define the criteria for what is an Indian, then I will answer you whether the Ramapough are Indian or not.”

If you would like more information about the documentary “American Native” please visit their website at or would like to know more about the Black Hills Film Festival please visit their webpage at

(Contact Richie Richards at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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