TRENTON, N.J. (CBS)–A legal battle between the Lenape Tribe and the State of New Jersey could come to a conclusion in the near future.
For some of the 1,200 Lenape Indians in the Delaware Valley, centuries of oppression got a little better in the early 1980’s when the State of New Jersey began recognizing native tribes. It opened the door for health, job and education grants.
“We were at the point we were starting to get entrepreneurs, we were starting to send kids to college,” said Chief Mark Gould, Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation.
But many of those opportunities have now vanished due to the Christie administration taking a position that there are no officially recognized Native American tribes in New Jersey.
The Lenape are in the midst of a discrimination lawsuit against the state of New Jersey alleging the administration has systematically tried to delegitimize native tribes for fear they might someday pursue casinos.
That would create competition for one of the state’s biggest money makers.
Last year at the courts dismissed the lawsuit, siding with the attorney general’s office that there is no law requiring state recognition.
But last week the appellate division overruled that decision so the Lenape lawsuit can proceed.
Until the lawsuit is settled federal programs to help small businesses, provide health care services, and the valuable right to label artwork “Indian handmade” are in all jeopardy.
Gould has faith the tribe will prevail.
“If you put it in the lord’s hands you might as well stop worrying,” he said.
The case could go to trial by the fall.