Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation awaits ruling in recognition dispute

Members of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation in New Jersey. Photo by Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation

The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation is bracing for a ruling in one of its lawsuits against the state of New Jersey.

The tribe was recognized by the state in 1982 through a law that is still on the books. But Gov. Chris Christie (R), a former Republican presidential candidate who has endorsed Donald Trump, and his administration are refusing to acknowledge that status, according to lawsuits filed in state and federal court.

The state is seeking to have both cases dismissed and a ruling is expected on Wednesday in New Jersey court, an attorney for the tribe said. A hearing takes place at 9am in Trenton.

The outcome is extremely important for the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape. Although state status has no bearing on federal recognition, federal laws like the Indian Arts and Crafts Act contain provisions that apply to state-recognized tribes and their members.

"Since 1982, the Nation has reasonably relied on the state's official recognition to claim eligibility for, and entitlement to, certain federal benefits, and to obtain them," the state complaint reads. "During the past 33 years, the Nation and its members have expended time, money, and energy in reliance on the state's recognition; the Nation has also, to a significant degree, associated its tribal identity with that recognition."

The federal law that established the 8(a) program at the Small Business Administration is another example. The tribe established NLT Management to enter into contracts with the federal government but one of those contracts is in danger of being terminated.

"The agency warned the nation that it needed to confirm NLT's status with the SBA to avoid immediate termination of the federal contract currently in place between the agency and NLT," the tribe's attorneys wrote in a letter to the judge handing the case in federal court.

"The Nation's members rely heavily on the employment opportunities created by its 8 (a) contracts for their livelihood and dozens of jobs are in immediate peril," the attorneys wrote.

The tribe hopes the letter can convince Judge Renee Marie Bumb to expedite consideration of the case. The state's motion to dismiss has been pending since last October.

The tribe has filed a letter of intent to seek federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs but has not completed the lengthy process.

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