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MAHWAH — In separate but related rulings issued Monday, state and federal agencies have taken actions favoring the Ramapough Lenape Nation based in the township.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a “statement of interest” Monday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey supporting a lawsuit by the Ramapough Mountain Indians saying the township violated the tribe’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 by “interfering with religious assembly on property the tribe owns in the township.”

It said Mahwah “has imposed a substantial burden on the Ramapoughs’ religious exercise without adequate justification and has not treated its use of the land equally with nonreligious uses of the land.” 

The township has been fighting installation of tepees, prayer poles and other religious objects on a 13.9-acre site owned by the Ramapough nation near Ramapo College.

Also on Monday, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a settlement with the Ramapough Lenape Nation acknowledging that it is one of two New Jersey tribes that have been officially recognized as American Indian tribes in the state since 1980. The recognition is “intended to qualify the tribes for all federal and state benefits and services for which state-recognized tribes are eligible.”

“It is absolutely wonderful that New Jersey decided to do the right thing and take the high road,” said Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry. “For ethics, morals, kindness and understanding.”


The Ramapoughs filed a suit against Mahwah last May claiming that the township had “burdened their religious exercise by rescinding a zoning permit that authorized religious worship” on their property, limited the number of people permitted on the property for religious gatherings, and demanded the removal of structures such as tepees and prayer poles “central to the Ramapoughs’ worship.” 

The complaint was amended last September making claims under the Religious Land Use act. The Justice Department’s statement of interest says the claims under that act alleging that the township’s conduct has “significantly chilled” the Ramapoughs’ use of the land for religious purposes “are ripe for consideration by the court.”

The Department of Justice formed a Religious Liberty Task Force last July to coordinate its work on religious liberty litigation.

Mahwah Mayor John Roth declined to comment.

State settlement

The state’s agreements are with two tribes: the Powhatan Renape Nation in southern New Jersey and the Ramapough Lenape Nation based in Mahwah.

The affirming of the two tribes as American Indians makes them eligible for federal and state services and benefits to which state-recognized tribes are entitled. Any past denials of recognition are being withdrawn.

The settlement is intended to extend to the two tribes the rights granted to the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation last November, primarily that they be allowed to label and sell traditional arts and crafts as “American Indian-made.” The Nanticoke also claimed that the lack of recognition caused it to lose federal grants, scholarships and contracts obtained by tribally owned businesses.

The settlement specifically “does not provide the tribes with federal casino gaming rights.”

State and federal agencies will be notified of the recognition status for the two tribes in the next month. 


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By Daniel Hubbard, Patch Staff | Mar 18, 2019 10:42 pm ET

MAHWAH, NJ — The Ramapough Lenape Nation was formally acknowledged as an American Indian Tribe in a settlement with the state, officials announced Monday.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced that New Jersey has settled an agreement with the tribe and acknowledged it has officially recognized the nation as a tribe since 1980.

The settlement qualifies the tribe for all federal and state benefits that state-recognized tribes are eligible. It also revokes any previous denial of recognition by the state, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.

The agreement does not provide the Ramapough Lenape Nation or the Powhatan Renape Nation, with whom the state also settled, with the right to open a casino.

The state also settled with the Powhatan Renape Nation and recognized it as an official Native American tribe.

“Tribal rights are significant rights, and we are glad that, through good faith negotiation, we’ve been able to reach an accord with both the Powhatan and Ramapough nations,” Grewal said. “These two tribes can now move forward without concern that state-level recognition issues will in any way impede their progress.”

The Ramapough have been locked in a long legal battle with the township regarding land the tribe has used as a prayer and religious site.

The tribe filed a 12-count federal lawsuit against the township in May 2018. The Ramapough claim in their complaint that their First and 14th Amendment constitutional rights were violated and the town has illegally fined them $480,000 in summons fines for illegally erecting structures on the land, which is at the mouth of the Ramapo and Mahwah rivers.

The structures were erected in protest of the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline, part of which would run through New Jersey, and the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday the township violated the tribe’s constitutional rights. The town interfered with the tribe’s right to assemble on the site as permitted under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act of 2000.