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#1 May-16-2018 09:33:pm

tree hugger
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Registered: May-12-2006
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NJ Town Hauled Into Court by Ramapough Nation

https://www.courthousenews.com/nj-town- … gh-nation/

NJ Town Hauled Into Court by Ramapough Nation
May 15, 2018 NICK RUMMELL FacebookTwitterGoogle+Email

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – A Native American tribe brought a federal complaint Monday that accuses a New Jersey town and homeowner’s association of levying illegal fines and trying to intimidate them into stopping open-air prayers on ceremonial grounds.

Represented by attorney Valeria Gheorghiu in the lawsuit, the Ramapough Lenape Nation claims town officials have used zoning ordinances and nearly $500,000 in fines to force it off private property on 95 Halifax Road in Mahwah, N.J.

The land is “a sacred site of immense importance to the Ramapoughs," and is used for religious ceremonies involving Mesingw masks, pipe ceremonies and sweat-lodge sessions, the complaint states.

At the behest of a homeowner’s association, the complaint says the Ramapoughs have faced a “historical pattern and practice of harassment" from Mahwah intended to drive them off the land.

For the past several weeks, according to the complaint, the Ramapoughs have faced daily fines of up to $12,500 per day for using the land for open-air prayer, carving the Mesingws masks into tree trunks, and erecting a stone altar.

“The Ramapough Lenape Nation is being attacked by the town of Mahway and the Polo Club," the 46-page lawsuit states.

The Ramapough tribe, sometimes referred to disparagingly as “Jackson Whites," has been embroiled in a number of lawsuits over the last couple years with Mahwah over the site, as well as skirmishes with state officials over a proposed pipeline through their land.

The tribe claims it acquired the rights to the land in 1995 as a private gift from developer Charles Elmes, and its members have conducted prayers and ceremonies on it for decades.

Starting in the 1990s, however, Mahwah allegedly began using various tactics to push the tribe off the land, including condemning homes occupied by tribe members and issuing several zoning infractions.

According to the suit, a member of the Polo Club told tribal Chief Dwaine Perry that, if the tribe did not sell the land, “unnamed members of the Polo Club were prepared to attack the Ramapough Lenape Nation."

Other club members and town officials have allegedly said they wanted “something done" to remove the prayer rocks on the sacred sites. The complaint quotes town attorney Brian Chewcaskie as asking during a council meeting: “Do we go in and take the rocks down ourselves?"

Since then the tribe says they have heard gunshots at night, suffered slashed tires and tents, and faced other incidents of vandalism. The Polo Club has also allegedly hired a public relations firm to smear the tribe in the media and has called police several times following complaints from neighbors to intimidate the tribe.

“We’re willing to talk to them in good faith, but we’re not going to give up our rights," Steven Smith, a member of and adviser to the tribe, said in an interview. “We are the decedents of the original people of Manhattan. This land is part of what little we have left and they want to take that."

Smith denied that tribe members are breaking the law when they pray on the land, saying town officials are rewriting laws so that they drive the tribe off the land.

“This isn’t law, this is Jim Crow," he said.

In 2018, according to the suit, the town attorney said the town would issues rules to prohibit prayer on the site and to remove the tribe’s sacred alter from the site. A Bergen County judge denied a proposed injunction by the town and Polo Club in December to destroy the sacred sites and prevent religious ceremonies on the land.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against removal of the tribe’s sacred altar and prayer circle, as well as to prevent the fines.

Mahwah has clashed with other groups, including a group of Orthodox Jews whom the town had tried to prevent from setting up religious boundaries known as eruvs. The town backed down from its ordinance prohibiting the eruvs and settled earlier this year with the group.

An email to Chewcaskie seeking comment was not immediately returned. A representative for the Mahwah mayor’s office declined to comment on the suit.

Gheorghiu, an attorney for the tribe, did not immediately return an email seeking comment, and her voicemail box was full.



#2 Sep-27-2018 07:10:am

Registered: Sep-17-2007
Posts: 4337

Re: NJ Town Hauled Into Court by Ramapough Nation

Million dollar homeowners don't want our teepees in their backyard, tribe says

Updated Sep 26, 12:05 PM; Posted Sep 26, 12:05 PM

By Allison Priesapries@njadvancemedia.com
NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

https://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2018/ … iscri.html

The Ramapough Lenape Nation has made changes to its federal lawsuit against the Township of Mahwah and a group of homeowners to focus it more on what the tribe says its ongoing fight is really about -- religious discrimination.

"The amendment is trying to streamline and focus the lawsuit to what we see as the real issue -- religious discrimination against the Ramapough Lenape tribe," said Darius Charney, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which joined the lawsuit in August.

The legal complaint was originally filed in May by the tribe to stop fines totaling $12,500 per day from being waged by the township against the tribe for using a 14-acre tribal prayer ground.

The land in question, known as Split Rock Sweet Water, is located on Halifax Road, along the Ramapo River at the entrance to the Ramapo Hunt and Polo Club -- an enclave of million dollar homes.

The property was gifted to the tribe in 1995 by the developer of the homes and has been used as a prayer site since before Christopher Columbus arrived in America, tribe members have said.

It drew complaints from neighbors and town code enforcement officials in December 2016 when the tribe erected teepees, a prayer circle and other structures. Mahwah sued the tribe in May 2017 for violating zoning laws. And a Superior Court judge in November 2017 found the tribe liable for 39 of 43 violations -- a decision the tribe has appealed. 

The federal lawsuit, filed by the tribe against Mahwah and the Polo Club, originally contained 11 counts but was trimmed down to seven after a nuisance claim against the Polo Club, a forced eviction claim against both the township and homeowner's group and a two other counts that the tribe's lawyers deemed repetitious were removed, Charney said.

"The nuisance one is really a state law claim and we wanted to focus on the constitutional issues here," he said.

Among them, Charney said, "both the town and Polo Club are conspiring together to discriminate against the tribe."

Calls to Township Attorney Brian Chewcaskie and an attorney for the homeowners were not returned.

Mahwah, last week, settled a lawsuit with the Attorney General's Office in which it was accused of targeting Orthodox Jews with two ordinances. The township did not admit wrongdoing and was not fined, although it would have to pay the state $350,000 if it engages in unlawful conduct within the next four years.

Asked if the timing of the amendment to this federal lawsuit from the tribe had anything to do with the Attorney General's settlement, Charney said no.

"The timing was solely due to the fact that the judge told us we had until Sept. 21" to file papers in response to the defendants' motion to dismiss the case, he said.

The township, homeowners group and the tribe's attorneys are expected to meet Thursday for their first mediation session, per the judge's instructions.

Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry said said he is hoping for a "balanced and fair settlement."

The fines being incurred by the tribe, meanwhile, now total "a little over a million dollars," Perry said, adding, "I find it incredible that we're being fined for assembling to pray on our own land."

If a settlement can't be reached during mediation, the Ramapoughs are ready to go to court.

"It would be great to reach a resolution where all the parties are satisfied," Charney said. "But if that's not possible we're prepared to litigate this case to vindicate the tribe's rights."

The Ramapough Lenape Nation, which consists of about 5,000 members living around the Ramapo Mountains in Bergen and Passaic counties in New Jersey and Rockland County, New York, were recognized by the state of New Jersey in 1980 as a Native American tribe, but are not recognized federally.




#3 Sep-28-2018 06:22:am

tree hugger
Site Admin
Registered: May-12-2006
Posts: 11091

Re: NJ Town Hauled Into Court by Ramapough Nation

Some of those comments were painful to read. neutral



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