South Jersey Indian tribe wins official state recognition

Ian Bush
November 15, 2018 - 7:53 pm
Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation

Nantioke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- It's a victory for an American Indian tribe from South Jersey that fought for years for official recognition from the state.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has announced he's settling lawsuits brought by the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation and will pay it $2.4 million.
It reverses the Christie administration's 2012 move to deny the 3000-member Bridgeton, Cumberland County-based tribe official status.
"It felt like a repeat of what our ancestors went through, where promises were made and then when they were deemed inconvenient for one reason or another, they just were broken without any explanation or remorse," says Dr. John Norwood, principal justice of the tribal supreme court and councilman-at-large.
Recognition was denied in part, the tribe's lawsuit argued, because state government worried the tribe would demand its own casino.
"It was just an irrational fear and the impact turned out, really, to be a form of economic racism," Norwood says. "Our tribe has sworn off profiting from any form of vice, including gambling. Also, the fear was ridiculous because state recognition does not grant gaming rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. You have to be a federally-recognized tribe with land in trust."
As part of the settlement, the tribe "disclaims any interest in casino gaming rights," and the state makes no admission of wrongdoing or liability.
It helps repair some of the damage from lost federal grants and scholarships, broken contracts with tribe-owned businesses, and forfeited sales of authentic Indian goods.
"It ensures we'll be counted in the upcoming census as a tribe," Norwood notes. "If we had lost this status in the courts, it was most likely that we would have been wiped off the map."
New Jersey's official recognition of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation is retroactive to 1982.