Law | Federal Recognition

Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation sues in New Jersey






A scene from a Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation powwow. Photo from Facebook

The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday out of fears it could lose its recognition status in New Jersey.

The tribe was recognized by the state in 1982 in a law that is still on the books. But Gov. Chris Christie (R) and his administration are backing away from that promise, according to the complaint.

“Our people have been an integral part of this region for thousands of years, including partnering in recent decades with New Jersey administrations of both parties," Chairman Mark Gould said in a press release. "We are entitled to fair and proper treatment by the state, and to confirmation of our long-held status as a state-recognized tribe.”

State status has no immediate bearing on federal recognition. The tribe filed a letter of intent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs but has not completed the lengthy process.

However, state recognition is important under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The law allows members of state tribes to market their goods as "Indian" but that could be in jeopardy.

"Benefits to state-only recognized tribes like those in New Jersey are much more limited than those available to federally recognized tribes, but nonetheless these benefits are critical to a state-recognized tribe’s ability to pursue economic and educational vitality," the complaint reads.

Two other tribes -- the Ramapough Lunaape Nation and the Powhatan-Renape Nation -- also gained recognition through acts of law in the state.

"Notwithstanding New Jersey’s prior actions over three decades recognizing and then repeatedly reaffirming the Nation’s official tribal status, the state now wrongfully attempts to deny and repudiate such recognition—and that of the other two tribes—without affording the Nation due process," the lawsuit reads.

Get the Story:
Native American tribe sues New Jersey for recognition (AP 7/22)
Lenni-Lenape tribe sue Christie, New Jersey over alleged civil rights violations (The Atlantic City Press 7/22)
SJ Native Americans Renew Fight For State Recognition (CBS 7/21)
New Jersey American Indian tribe sues state for blocking official recognition, lawsuit states (NJ.Com 7/21)