In 2012, New Jersey threatened to rescind the tribal status of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation. In response, the tribe is suing the state of New Jersey and attorney general John Hoffman.
Mark Clatterbuck, religion professor at Montclair State, said, “The Lenni-Lenape tribe traces its roots in this region back 10,000 to 12,000 years, through 500 generations.”
Clatterbuck said, “It appears that the governor is denying tribal recognition due to race-based fears that they want to build a casino. But the tribe itself has passed legislation banning casinos, so that’s a false fear.”
During a panel on Wednesday night, Reverend Dr. Norwood, Principal Justice of the Tribal Court, said, “by tribal law, this is a non-gaming tribe. We will not profit from any form of vice.”
Dr. Norwood said, “American Indians can’t produce craft work or label it as ‘American Indian Made’ or even use the name of their tribes on their product if the American Indian tribe is not state or federally recognized. There is a hefty federal fine if you violate this policy. They first need the state’s seal of approval.”
Lead Attorney Greg Werkheiser noted that with the swipe of a pen, the status of the Lenni-Lenape Tribe was put to question.
During the panel, Werkheiser said, “There is an assumption that Native American equals casino. The vast majority do not want a casino. But that is not what you see on TV.”
Werkheiser then said, “This damaged their businesses, and now their students don’t get scholarships (the tribe no longer receives grants for its people).”
“This is a civil rights lawsuit. It is improper for government to give or take away benefits without due process, especially when based on stereotypes about race. We are looking for the state to do the right thing or at least to stop doing the wrong thing.”
During the panel, Mark Gould, Principal Chief and Chairman of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal nation raised his right hand as he leaned closer to the audience and said, “Ain’t no hill to a climber. You could do anything, just like this. You may put me down, but I’ll be back.”