Lenape Chief gives talk on rights of indigenous people

Graphic courtesy of Ramapough Lenape Nation, Facebook

November is Native American Heritage Month, sometimes referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. In honor of this month, Ramapo College invited elected Lenape Chief Dwaine Perry to join the Civic and Community Engagement Center, or CCEC, for a discussion on the rights of indigenous people. On Monday, students and faculty gathered to learn about the Ramapough Indian history, as well as ask Chief Perry questions.

Ramapo College was built on a Native American Reservation. The name Ramapo, meaning sweet water, was given in order to honor the tribe. However, a conflict has risen between the town of Mahwah and the Ramapo Lenape Nation.

Last October, teepees were erected to show solidary with the Sioux Tribe in Standing Rock, who were fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and also to protest the pipeline plans in Northern New Jersey. This pipeline, running through a Ramapough burial ground, poses a large threat to the drinking water supply. Since then, Chief Perry says the tribe, “has come under daily onslaught both political and legal.”

The town of Mahwah issued two summonses on the act of a zoning violation, claiming that the teepees were permanent structures being used as campgrounds. The teepees sat on the 13-acre prayer camp, named Split Rock Sweet Water. This land had been purchased and returned to the tribe.

“This is a manipulation of zoning laws, and systematic racism is alive today,” said Chief Perry. “Unfortunately, the town has a history of doing this.”

When asked what the Ramapo College community can do to help the tribe, the Chief emphasized involvement.

“Globally what’s expected of everyone is to apply critical thinking,” he said. “Find out what’s going on around you, attend court cases and stay politically aware.”

He also offered the idea of creating a club.

“If you created a small committee, you could send a member to every Mahwah meeting. If you attend a meeting monthly, you’ll start to affect your own environment,” he said.

Many activists have reached out to support the tribe but Chief Perry explained the need for more. Ramapo geography professor Howard Horowitz agreed.

“Part of Ramapo College’s multicultural mission is to interact with other cultures,” said Horowitz. “We should have an interest in defending the Ramapough Indians.”

“When you look at the reality of this, its discrimination, restricting freedom of religion and free speech,” he continued. “We as a campus benefit and have benefited from having the tribal community next door.”

“If this case ruling is in your favor, what’s the tribe’s next plan of action?” asked junior Megan Collins.

In answer, Chief Perry expressed that he’d like to, “create a food forest, start minimal building and have a decent place to continue to share and teach ceremonies.”

He explained that he wants to teach the community the importance of having peaceful interactions. Being a Vietnam veteran gives him a unique perspective of peace.

“There’s nothing positive about violence,” he concluded. “So, before you decide to become aggressive, use your critical thinking to determine what’s behind a division.”


To stay involved, the Ramapough Lenape Nation has a Facebook page, as well as a website, www.ramapoughlenapenation.org. If interested in more information students can contact, Ramapo’s assistant professor of anthropology, Neriko Doer, at ndoerr@ramapo.edu.