TRENTON, NJ – In dismissing a lawsuit filed by the Lenape Indians, today a judge reaffirmed New Jersey’s position that there are no recognized American Indian Tribes in the state.
“It’s a slap in the face, but we’ve been slapped so many times by the state over the last several centuries that our skin is thick,” said tribe member Rev John Norwood outside Mercer County Superior Court on Wednesday.
Last year the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation filed suit against the state for allegedly revoking official recognition which they contend the NJ Legislature granted three tribes through a joint resolution in 1992.
They say without such recognition their crafts are rendered worthless because they can’t carry the label “native made.”
They also face being denied access to federal benefits like scholarships, job training and healthcare reserved for Native Americans.
“They can’t take our heart out, but they can take our economics away,” says Chief Mark Gould.
In their briefing the Attorney General’s office says, “the State does not have any procedures, standards or requirements for the “recognition” or continued recognition of American Indian tribes.”
The Attorney General’s Office does not offer an explanation why they won’t support state tribal recognition, they simply say they don’t have to do it.
The Lenape and their attorneys believe at the heart of the matter is fear over building a casino.
“It’s clear to us that the state’s motivation is one that is race-based, it’s stereotyping the tribe and it’s punishing the tribe for who they are independent of their complete lack of desire to compete with the state’s monopoly on gaming,” says attorney Greg Werkheiser.
Werkheiser says the Lenape’s legal team plans to appeal the Superior Court decision and have another lawsuit in Federal Court.
That case has a hearing on a dismissal motion scheduled for April 12 at 10:00 a.m.