Dwaine Perry Speaks at Native American Heritage Month Banquet

Photo by Carolyn Herring

This November, Ramapo acknowledged Native American Heritage Month with several events. Along the Ramapo River, tribal ceremonial grounds of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation native to Mahwah can still be found today. They speak of a history buried among the histories of their European counterparts, groups that came here in the early 1700s to settle. 

“The first slave sold in New Jersey was a Ramapough Lunaape Indian,” said Chief Dwaine Perry. “In the early 1700’s, the Ramapough Lunaape Nation migrated from New Jersey and New York to Canada and Oklahoma leaving a few families back to take care of the sacred land.” Perry is the current elected chief of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation. Perry has been fighting to bring more awareness to the Lunaape Nation with varied results. Perry believes that the schools and state could be doing more to help the community.

The legitimacy of the tribe, however, has long been questioned, an attack that Perry said is unwarranted. In a film depiction, the Lunaape are made out to be drug dealers and bare knuckle boxers, fueled by violent tendencies and lawlessness. The movie, “Out of the Furnace,” caused the Lunaape to go as far as to file a defamation lawsuit in 2011 against its makers.

Local legend has it that the Ramapough Lunnape Nation are a group of runaway slaves, prostitutes and Hessian deserters of the American Revolution. Perry scoffs at this. In a 2012 Star Ledger interview, Perry stated: “[S]ome of it defies logic. What person with a brain is going think a bunch of prostitutes are going to walk 30 miles from the city and come to a sparsely populated mountain woods where people have no money? Yeah, that makes sense.”

Perry points to a historical document that shows the Ramapough Lunnape Nation were considered “local product” that would escape from their forced labor.

“European people came here and were conquerors and slavers,” according to Perry. “It has really been a history of take and destroy and we are not even allowed back in the history.”

Perry cites the role of the Ramapough Lunnape Nation during the American Revolution, a fact that has been left out of the United States history books. “Without our ancestors, we are sure there wouldn’t have been a successful American Revolution, but this is not taught in the classrooms.” Perry would like to see more pushes to include the histories of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation covered in the region.

Perry visited Ramapo College on Nov. 19 to celebrate National Native American Heritage Month. In regard to the College, Perry stated that President Peter Mercer has been more open to the Ramapough Lunnape Nation than his predecessors. Perry also said that the Ramapough Lunaape Nation would like to see more programs that would help prepare their children for entrance into institutions of higher education. Perry would also like to see the College community take more of an interest in the existence of the tribe and their culture and history.

“We are not seeing an effort to educate the youth in our region about the history and culture of the Ramapuagh Lennape Nation,” said Perry. “It’s going to change the way that the truth has been told. I believe that Native Americans have been instrumental into the success of this country.”