Brigid Harrison: Lenni-Lenape Nation battles for recognition

A scene from a Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation powwow. Photo from Facebook

Columnist Brigid Harrison looks into the battle between Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation and Gov. Chris Christie (R), who refuses to acknowledge the existence of state-recognized tribes in New Jersey:
A lawsuit filed in July by members of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation against the State of New Jersey alleges that the Christie administration is denying the tribe’s members civil rights by withdrawing recognition of the tribe. The Christie administration’s rescinding of this status was the subject of a panel discussion sponsored by the anthropology, history and religion departments in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University last week. Panelists included Mark Gould, principal chief and tribal chairman of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation; the Rev. Dr. John Norwood, Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape chief justice, and Greg Werkheiser, of Cultural Heritage Partners. The state Attorney General’s Office was invited but did not participate.

According to Werkheiser, the Lenni-Lenape do not have federal tribal status, but in 1982, Senate Resolution No. 73 granted the tribe official recognition from the State of New Jersey. This status was reaffirmed with the tribe’s inclusion on the New Jersey State Commission on American Indian Affairs. The tribe also cited numerous instances in which successive governors of both political parties, including Govs. Jim Florio, Christie Whitman and Jon Corzine, interacted with the tribe as a recognized tribal entity.

So what’s the deal?

Werkheiser explained that, in 2001, when the federal government inquired of the state’s Commission on Native American Affairs as to how many tribes existed in New Jersey (there are three), the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, which has no authority in such matters, intercepted the inquiry and responded "none."

That response was treated as an anomaly by the federal government and by most state agencies, until it was resurrected recently by acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, setting the tribal nation in battle against the state bureaucracy.

Get the Story:
Brigid Harrison: Tribe fighting for recognition (The Bergen Record 11/29)

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