Ramapough Mountain Indians
|2,654 (1992 membership list)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States New Jersey, New York|
|English, formerly Munsee, Iroquoian, Dutch|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Ramapough Mountain Indians (also spelled Ramapo), also known as the Ramapough Lenape Nation or Ramapough Lunaape Munsee Delaware Nation, are a group of approximately 5,000 people living around the Ramapo Mountains of Bergen and Passaic counties in northern New Jersey and Rockland County in southern New York, about 25 miles from New York City. They were recognized in 1980 by the state of New Jersey as an Indian tribe but have not gained federal recognition. Their tribal office is located on Stag Hill Road on Houvenkopf Mountain in Mahwah, New Jersey. Since January 2007, the Chief of the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation has been Dwaine Perry.
The Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation identify as descendants of Lenape, whose regional bands included the Hackensack, Tappan, Rumachenanck/Haverstroo, Munsee/Minisink and Ramapo people. They absorbed peoples of varying degrees of Tuscaroran, African, and Dutch and other European ancestry. The Lenape language in this area was Munsee and the Tuscarora spoke an Iroquoian language but, following contact with European colonists, ancestors of the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation were also known to have spoken Jersey Dutch and English. Today they speak English. The Ramapough are working to restore the Munsee language among their members.
The Ramapough Lenape Nation, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, and the Powhatan Renape Nation have a longstanding history of working together to care for members in the state of New Jersey. As of May 2011, the three tribes formed the United State-Recognized Tribes of New Jersey.
Members of the community have participated in litigation against the Ford Motor Company regarding poisoning from a former toxic waste landfill, portions of which were subsequently used in the 1970s as sites for affordable housing for the Ramapough people.
The Ramapough and two other tribes were recognized as Indian tribes in 1980 by the state of New Jersey by Resolution 3031. The New Jersey citation read:
Be it resolved by the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey (the Senate concurring): 1. That the Ramapough Mountain People of the Ramapough Mountains of Bergen and Passaic counties, descendants of the Iroquois and Algonquin nations, are hereby designated by the State of New Jersey as the Ramapough Indians.
They claim to have been recognized by the State of New York by Legislative Resolution 86 in 1979. But, according to Alexa Koenig and Jonathan Stein, who have reviewed state recognition processes and state-recognized, New York does not have a separate process of recognition of Indian tribes and never recognized the Ramapough. It recognized the Shinnecock and one other tribe under independent criteria.
In 2009 the New York legislature had a bill pending to recognize the Ramapough people as Native Americans.
The Ramapough Mountain Indians (RMI) filed a petition for federal recognition as a tribe in 1978. They did not submit a documented petition until April 23, 1990. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on June 15, 1990 responded with a letter outlining the deficiencies in the petition. During the process, it repeatedly offered to have representatives meet with the tribe to review avenues of research, specifically court records and land deeds, for the period 1750-1820. The RMI submitted a partial response on January 28, 1991. A fully revised petition was determined to be ready for active consideration on March 5, 1992. The petition was placed on active consideration status on July 14, 1992. In December 1993, the BIA issued its proposed finding, rejecting the tribe's petition. It granted the tribe an opportunity to respond, including extensions, and issued its Final Determination rejecting its petition on December 11, 1995. This survived an internal BIA appeal in 1997 and a federal court appeal in 2001.
Until the 1970s, the tribe was frequently referred to as the "Jackson Whites", which, according to legend (folklore or myth) was shorthand for "Jacks and Whites", reflecting their multiracial ancestry. In part because of their multiracial ancestry, the outside community assumed they were descendants of runaway and freed slaves ("Jacks" in slang) and whites. Over time, the latter were believed to have included Dutch settlers (reflected in surnames common among the people) and later, Hessian soldiers, German mercenaries who had fought for the British during the American Revolution; that is, people who were considered suspect by the dominant British Americans. The people supposedly fled to frontier areas of the mountains after the end of the Revolutionary War. Thousands of escaped slaves had gone to British-occupied New York City on the promise of freedom. Some left the city for more isolated areas to escape capture after the war. There is no documentation of slaves, freed or runaway, nor of Hessian soldiers' marrying into the tribe.
The group rejects this name and its associated legends as pejorative. On July 30, 1880, The Bergen Democrat was the first newspaper to print the term Jackson Whites. A 1911 article noted it was used as a title of contempt. Instead, they called themselves "The Mountain People."
The New Jersey historian David S. Cohen has confirmed that the old stories were legends, not history. He said the legend was untrue and was "the continuing vehicle for the erroneous and derogatory stereotype of the Mountain People." He said that some of the group's ancestors were multiracial, free Afro-Dutch who had migrated from lower Manhattan to the frontier and become landowners in the Tappan Patent in the seventeenth century.
A number of local historians, genealogists, and archeologists have written about the Ramapough people. Accounts have changed related to research that has revealed more archeological, historical, linguistic, and other evidence, as well as because of social attitudes. As with other multiracial peoples seeking recognition as Native American tribes, the Ramapough Mountain Indians have encountered differences of opinion over the significance of ethnic ancestry in contrast to cultural and community identity in being recognized as a distinct culture.
The Ramapo were a Munsee-speaking band of the Lenape, an Algonquian language-speaking people who occupied a large territory throughout coastal areas of the mid-Atlantic states and along the Delaware River valley. Bands were typically named after their geographic region, and early European colonists thought they were different peoples, but all were Lenape. Ramapo villages were recorded in the late seventeenth century in western Connecticut, near present-day Bethel and Ridgefield. In 1911 an intact dugout canoe was found underwater near Bethel and identified as possibly Ramapo; it is now held at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at the University of Connecticut. In 1923 Foster H. Seville, an ethnologist, authenticated two dugout canoes found in Witteck Lake, near Butler, New Jersey, as of Ramapo origin and possibly 1,000 years old. They were exhibited in the American Museum of Natural History and in Hackensack, New Jersey.
In the early 1700s, the Ramapo in present-day western Connecticut were led by a sachem or chief named Katonah. Under pressure from English colonists, they sold their land in the Ridgefield area, a territory estimated at 20,000 acres (81 km2), and moved away. The Ramapo migrated west and some eventually settled in the mountains in northeastern New Jersey and southwestern New York; this part of the Appalachian Mountains was named for them by colonists as the Ramapo Mountains.
The colonial Dutch referred to the Lenape Indian peoples whom they encountered in this mid-Atlantic region, along the lower Hudson and northern New Jersey areas, as the Hackensack, Tappan, Nyack, and Minsi; these were the Dutch-derived names from the Lenape words for the bands, who took the names associated with geographic places. The archeologist Herbert C. Kraft says that some of the Ramapough retreated to the mountains by the mid to late seventeenth century, and theorizes they were joined by remnants of the Esopus and possibly Wappinger bands after wars with the Dutch. The Dutch allocated land from the Tappan Patent in the Hackensack Valley; it crossed what became the border between New York and New Jersey.
Wynant Van Gelder, the first European landowner in what became Sloatsburg in Rockland County, New York, was noted as having bought land from the Ramapough in 1738. Ramapough Mountain Indians still live in the county, especially in Hillburn, New York
When colonists entered the areas along Ramapo Creek to develop iron mines and works in the eighteenth century, they noted that the Ramapough people occupied the hills. The founder of the iron mines brought in German and English workers, some of whose descendants settled in the area.
The historian David Cohen found that early settlers in the Hackensack Valley included "free black landowners in New York City and mulattoes with some Dutch ancestry who were among the first pioneers to settle in the Hackensack River Valley of New Jersey." Among these were Augustine Van Donck, who bought land in the Tappan Patent in 1687. As the border between New York and New Jersey split the area of the patent in 1798, Cohen theorized that some of these early free people of color moved west into the mountains. (The surname Van Dunk is common among the Ramapough, as are DeGroat, DeFreese, and Mann.) Cohen thought that, while some free blacks may have married Lenape remnant peoples in the area, the residents of the mountains developed not primarily of Indian culture but as multiracial people of European-American culture, with rural traditions. The origin of these surnames could also be from earlier contact times with the Colonials. From superstition, many Indians chose to use the names given by the Colonials instead of their real names.
The archeologist and historian Edward J. Lenik disagrees with Cohen's findings; he says,
While the Ramapough's origins are controversial, most historians and anthropologists agree that they (Ramapough) are the descendants from local Munsee-speaking Lenape (Delaware) Indians who fled to the mountains in the late seventeenth century to escape Dutch and English settlers. It is a well known fact that displacement of Indian tribes followed European Incursions in the region which resulted in the forced movement and resettlement of Indian peoples.
Controversy over origins
The multiracial ancestry of the people in the mountains was noted by their European-American neighbors. Myths, as noted in the section on their name, were derived in part from theories of origins, as well as prejudice related to their racial ancestry because slavery had developed as a racial caste. By the mid-nineteenth century, the multiracial mountain people were concentrated in the settlements of Mahwah and Ringwood, New Jersey; and Hillburn, New York. Local histories documented traditions of mixed-race descendants from intermarriages with the Lenape in the mountains. In the twentieth century, some anthropologists classified such isolated mixed-race groups, who tended to be historically endogamous, as tri-racial isolates or simply as mixed bloods. Assumptions that Indians wanted only to assimilate to the majority culture had led to thinking that their cultures had ended. During a period of urbanization, high rates of immigration, and suburban development throughout the New York metropolitan area, the Ramapough Mountain Indians continued to live in their historic areas of settlement in the mountains, and maintained a rural culture.
Cohen noted in 1974 that, as the federal censuses were missing for 1790-1830 for this area, it prevented "establishing positively the exact relationship between many of the these colored families in the mountains, and the earlier colored families of the Hackensack River Valley." He noted the "tradition of Indian ancestry among the Ramapo Mountain People as early as the eighteenth century." Cohen also said, "Some Indian mixture is possible; however, Indian and colored interracial matings probably were not recorded in the Dutch Reformed Churches."
Before 1870, the State of New Jersey Census had only three racial or ethnic categories for residents: White, Black (free), and Black (slave), the same categories as were used in the slave states. Census enumerators tended to use black as the category for any people of color, including Indians. New Jersey finally passed a gradual abolition law in 1804 to end slavery, but it kept slaves born before the law in an indentured status. By a law of 1846, it renamed them as apprentices, "apprenticed for life". The last slaves in New Jersey were not freed until 1865 and passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. In 1870, New Jersey began recording Indians (Native Americans) as a separate category in its census; 16 were identified by census enumerators that year.
A less common theory of ancestry was that the Ramapough were Indian people who had been held as slaves by colonists.
With increasing interest and research in Native American history, a 1984 symposium was held on the Lenape. James Revey (Lone Bear), then chairman of the New Jersey Indian Office, said that "Mountain Indians" were the Lenape who had retreated into the mountains of western and northeastern New Jersey and southwestern New York during the colonial era. Other scholars, such as Herbert C. Kraft, have documented that some Munsee-speaking Lenape moved into the Ramapo Mountains to escape colonial encroachment.
Kraft noted, as did Cohen (see below), that there was a gap in "the genealogical record between about 1790-1830 that prevented his assembling with exactitude individual relationships between most of the Hackensack Valley settlers and those of the Ramapo Mountains." In his own work, Kraft has not attempted to establish genealogical links between the present-day Ramapough and colonial-era Indian tribes.
According to Catalano and Planche, consultants for the tribe in its recognition process, Cohen's work has been criticized by the genealogists Alcon Pierce and Roger Joslyn. Catalano said that Cohen had no professional credentials in genealogy, and that the BIA found much of his genealogical work lacking.
The State of New Jersey prohibited free blacks from owning any land.
Edward J. Lenik, an archeologist and author of a 1999 book about the Ramapo Indians, writes:
The archaeological record indicates a strong, continuous and persistent presence of Indian bands in the northern Highlands Physiographic Providence-Ramapos well into the 18th century. Other data, such as historical accounts, record the presence of Indians in the Highlands during the 19th and 20th centuries. Oral traditions, and settlement and subsistence activities are examined as well. Native American people were a significant element among the primary progenitors of the Ramapo Mountain People...
The historian Evan T. Pritchard, of Micmac descent, wrote
The Ramapough, or "mountaineer Munsee", on the other hand, never disappeared. Their people still occupy the southwest portion of the point of Rockland County, on all sides of Ramapo Mountain. ... Whites have always tried, and continue to try to portray the Ramapough as foreigners: Dutch, blacks, Tuscarora, Gypsies, or Hessians. However, they are the only actual non-foreigners to be found still living in community in and around New York's metropolitan region. ... The main Ramapough Lenape villages in New York were Hillburn, Johnsontown, Furmanville, Sherwoodville, Bulsontown, Willowgrove, Sandyfields, and Ladentown. Better known, however, as Native American strongholds, are the towns just south of the border, namely Stagg Hill [Mahwah] and Ringwood.
The archeologist C.A. Weslager noted that the Delaware were joined in the eighteenth century by some migrating Tuscarora families, who never proceeded to Iroquois country in New York.
Alanson Skinner on the American Museum of Natural History in 1915 noted the multiracial character of the people in the Ramapo Mountains, saying that the Indian descendants had later mixed with Africans and Caucasians.
The Ramapo Mountain Indians have had a chief and council form of government. In 1978 they organized a non-profit. That year they filed a petition with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs of intent to gain federal recognition as a tribe. They further organized into clans for self-government: the Wolf, the Turtle and the Deer, related to their three main settlements of Mahwah and Ringwood, New Jersey; and Hillburn, New York.
The tribe approached its New Jersey Assembly member, W. Cary Edwards, to seek state recognition. After several months of research, Edwards and Assemblyman Kern introduced Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 3031 (ACR3031) on May 21, 1979. It passed the Assembly and was passed by the Senate on January 7, 1980.
Edwards later said that debate in the assembly related to the Cohen book; he noted that he and other supporters of recognition had to demonstrate the historical basis of the Ramapough. At the time, the state had not developed its own criteria or regulations related to tribal recognition. The state resolution also called for Federal recognition of the Ramapough, but is non-binding in that regard. Indian activism had led to other peoples seeking official recognition; the state of New Jersey also recognized the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape and the Powhatan Renape, both descended from Algonquian-speaking tribes. The State of New Jersey created the Commission on Native American Affairs by P.L.1134, c. 295, and it was signed into law on December 22, 1995, by Governor Christine Todd Whitman.
Effort to gain federal recognition
In August 1978, the tribe filed a petition of intent for federal recognition. Since then Native American activism has led to the development of casino gambling on tribal trust lands to generate revenue and support economic development. The late twentieth-century efforts to gain federal recognition by landless eastern tribes, who have been generally without reservations or trust lands, have met with new opposition from parties opposed to potential casinos - both private competitors and federally recognized tribes who operate their own facilities in states that allow gaming, and citizen groups concerned about the proliferation of gaming.
The Ramapough Mountain Indians submitted its petition for recognition with supporting documentation in 1990. One of the consultants advising the tribe, Roger D. Joslyn, a certified genealogist, has traced Ramapough members to people of the 18th century and concluded that tribal members were descended from the historical Munsee tribe.
The Stockbridge-Munsee Community of Wisconsin, the Munsee-Delaware Nation of Canada, both Lenape nations;, and the Iroquois Six Nations of Canada, who had migrated from New York State during and after the American Revolution, filed statements included with the Tribe's petition encouraging the US Government to recognize the Ramapough.
In April 1993, Donald Trump (a casino owner) and two Bergen County United States Representatives said that "the Ramapo would bring in Indian gaming associated with organized crime." U.S. Representative Marge Roukema testified to the Senate Subcommittee on Native American Affairs on October 5, 1993 about the Ramapough Lenape Indian efforts to gain recognition. She said that, since tribal representatives had approached her in the 1980s seeking a private federal bill for recognition, their "sole interest" appeared to be to establish casino gambling in Bergen County. She feared that Indian gaming in New Jersey would bring organized crime with it. On November 17, 1993, Roukema and U.S. Representative Robert Torricelli publicly announced that the Ramapough had been denied recognition by the BIA, although the draft final determination had not yet been reviewed by the Assistant Secretary of Interior. The Ramapough requested an investigation of the agency leak and were ignored. The Ramapough do not hold any land as a reservation that could be used for a gambling site.
The BIA gave the Tribe an opportunity to respond to its Proposed Finding of December 8, 1993, which said its documented petition did not satisfy all the regulatory criteria. It identified areas of weakness and provided extensions requested by the Tribe. Finally in December 1995, the agency issued its Final Determination, which concluded that the Ramapough Mountain Indians had failed to meet three of seven criteria for recognition; namely, that it did not provide adequate proof of descent from a historical tribe, nor of genealogical, social and political continuity since 1950. The latter two issues were of concern since 1950, when the BIA felt that the tribe had not demonstrated a distinct Indian culture different from its neighbors. They said:
In making this Final Determination, the BIA has reviewed the evidence used to prepare the Proposed Finding, the RMI [Ramapough Mountain Indians] response to the Proposed Finding, and additional research conducted for the Final Determination by BIA staff. None of the interested party or third party comments were directed to the specific genealogies of the RMI progenitor families. None of the interested party or third party comments provided substantive proof that the earliest proven RMI ancestors descended from a historical tribe of North American Indians. Therefore, the third-party comments were not directly pertinent to criterion 83.7(e). ...
None of the outside observers cited in the RMI Response provided documentation of actual tribal descent. Statements of generically "Indian" characteristics are not equivalent under the 25 CFR Part 83 regulations to documented descent from "a historical Indian tribe or from historical Indian tribes that combined and functioned as a single autonomous political entity." Statements concerning more general "Indian" descent are not in themselves adequate to meet criterion 83.7(e), and must also be evaluated in the full context of the available evidence. ...
In conclusion, the origins and parentage of the earliest genealogically proven ancestors of the petitioner are not known. The petitioner has not demonstrated that their earliest documented ancestors were members of a historical North American Indian tribe, nor has the petitioner documented that their earliest proven progenitors descended from any known historical tribe of North American Indians. Without documentation, the BIA cannot make an assumption, on the basis of late 19th-century and early 20th-century ascriptions, that these unknown RMI ancestors were members of a historical North American Indian tribe. The petitioner has not presented acceptable evidence that the RMI descend from a historical Indian tribe, or from tribes that amalgamated and functioned as a single unit, either as individuals or as a group.
The Ramapough, who are opposed to gambling, appealed the BIA's decision. On November 2001, the Ramapough presented their case to the Court of Appeals. The BIA conceded that the Ramapough are Native American:
At oral argument before the Court of Appeals, the BIA conceded that the RMI (Ramapough Mountain Indians) are Indians, but asserted that the Tribe provided no evidence of descent from the Aboriginal Lenape Indians, who are the only tribal group ever to have occupied the region.
John "Bud" Shapard was the former chief of the Bureau of Research at the BIA from 1978-1987, when the regulations were written. Asked to review the Ramapough's case after the BIA declined their petition, in 1999 he said, "It's pretty clear they've got an Indian community as strong as some that have been recognized. There's no question about that."
Alexa Koenig and Jonathan Stein wrote an article published in 2007 in which they reviewed the process of federal and state recognition, and factors affecting both. They noted the effect of the development of Indian gambling. They wrote,
The current political environment threatens to further slow the achievement of federal recognition, as legislators and citizens in various communities band together to oppose recognition for fear that newly recognized tribes will establish a casino in their community. This opposition is sometimes financed by competing Indian casinos, adding additional money and political muscle to an already uphill fight. Unfortunately, this is unfairly hindering recognition opportunities for longstanding tribes and standing in the way of such tribes acquiring much needed non-casino related benefits, such as federal grants and governmental immunities.
They noted that many states had initiated their own processes of recognition of tribes and are building new relationships with the people. The Ramapough Lenape Indians had been recognized by New Jersey but not by New York, which as a policy matter does not separately recognize tribes, nor by the federal government.
In the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the Ringwood Mines landfill site as a Superfund site for cleanup. Ford had operated an auto assembly plant in Mahwah and its contractors dumped industrial paints and other hazardous wastes in landfill owned by the company in an area where many Ramapough Mountain Indians live. EPA identified further remediation three more times as additional sludge sites were found. Following further investigation, EPA returned the community to the Superfund list, the only site to be so treated. The agency has directed the removal of an additional 47,000 tons of sludge and soil up to 2011, with cleanup continuing.
In 1995, New Jersey established a Commission on American Indian Affairs (then called the Commission on Native American Affairs) with two seats each for the recognized tribes of the Ramapough Mountain Indians, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape, and the Powhatan Renape (the latter two groups are located in southern New Jersey. In addition, two seats were reserved for Inter-Tribal Members, persons who belonged to other tribes but lived in New Jersey. It has been placed in the Department of State.
In late winter 2006, some 600 Ramapough Lenape Indians, led by Wayne Mann and with the aid of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., filed a mass tort suit (Mann v. Ford) against the "Ford Motor Company and its contractors, as well as the borough of Ringwood, for the dumping of toxic waste." They were represented by Vicki Gilliam of The Cochran Group. The suit was filed about the time of publication of Toxic Legacy, a five-part investigative series by The Record, which had found lead and antimony levels in excess of 100 times the safety limit near some Ramapough residences.
In the spring of 2006, Emil Mann, a Ramapough Lenape man, was killed by gunshots from a New Jersey State Parks Police ranger in a confrontation with people on ATVs in Ringwood State Park. His family filed a civil suit against the state. Governor Corzine's staff met with the Ramapough Lenape and other Native Americans in the state to identify problem areas and improve relations. The state undertook an investigation into the shooting, and a grand jury indicted one of the rangers.
In August 2006, Governor Jon Corzine formed the New Jersey Committee on Native American Community Affairs to investigate issues of civil rights, education, employment, fair housing, environmental protection, health care, infrastructure and equal opportunity confronting members of New Jersey's three indigenous Native American tribes and other New Jersey residents of Native American descent. The Committee's report was delivered on December 17, 2007 and cited "lingering discrimination, ignorance of state history and culture, and cynicism in the treatment of Indian people".
State and federal officials have worked with the tribes on other issues related to their people. For instance, in preparation for the 2010 census, state and federal officials consulted with the recognized tribes on means to get accurate counts of their people. The Census Bureau has created local partnerships. It recognizes State Designated Tribal Statistical Areas (SDTSA), which are established by state consultation with local tribes to identify significant areas of American Indian populations outside reservations (these had been overlooked in the twentieth century). In New Jersey, these are identified as Passaic and Bergen counties for the Ramapough Mountain Tribe, and Cumberland County for the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape. The Rankokus Indian Reservation no longer qualifies, as the state has taken back much of the land it had earlier leased to the Powhatan Renape.
The tribe has required members to be directly descended from an identified Ramapough parent listed in tribal records. People must provide certified birth certificates and documentation of at least three generations to a listed Ramapough ancestor.
Representation in other media
Mann v. Ford is a documentary (released 2011) about the suit filed by the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation against Ford, and its progress. Regularly shown on HBO. Directed by Maro Chermayeff and Mica Fink, it features Paul Mann of the Ramapough and Vicki Gilliam of The Cochran Firm, which represented the tribe. It follows the five years of the Ramapough pursuing the suit and how they reached settlement.
A 2013 documentary titled American Native details the Ramapough Lenape Nation's efforts to gain federal recognition as a Native American nation and the reasons for opposition to it.
In the works is a six-part made for television miniseries, The Red Road, an HBO/Sundance Production.
The 2013 film Out of the Furnace is a fictional story that deals with the communities living in the Ramapough Mountains. Town officials from Mahwah, New Jersey urged a boycott of the film due to negative depictions of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, an indigenous people living around the Ramapo Mountains  characterizing the film as a hate crime. Relativity Media responded that the film "is not based on any one person or group" and is "entirely fictional". Nine members of the group, eight of whom have the surname of the movie's lead character, DeGroat, filed suit against the makers and other involved parties, claiming that Out of the Furnace portrays a gang of criminals living in the Ramapo Mountains who are "lawless, drug-addicted, impoverished and violent." The suit was dismissed.
- Haliwa-Saponi of North Carolina
- Lumbee of North Carolina
- Monacan Indians of Amherst and Rockingham Counties, Virginia
- Nanticoke of Delaware
- Person County Indians, aka "Cubans and Portuguese" of North Carolina
- Piscataway Indians of southern Maryland
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