Lenni-Lenape Lawsuit Win Brings Tribe Closer to State Recognition

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A photo of the tribe, provided by the  Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape. 

Updated: 7/13/17 

TRENTON, N.J. — On Monday, July 10th, a South Jersey-based Native American tribe received the win they needed in a state court to proceed with their lawsuit against the New Jersey attorney general.

A three-judge panel of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division has given the green-light to the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation to move forward with their lawsuit, which had been dismissed in March 2016.

Here is the official press release, put out by the Cultural Heritage Partners:

New Jersey Tribe Wins Appeal; Has Green-light to Proceed with Civil Rights Lawsuit Against New Jersey Attorney General

Trenton, New Jersey – July 10, 2017– A three-judge panel of the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division today reversed a decision by the Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, providing a green-light to the 3,000-member Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation to proceed in its civil rights lawsuit against New Jersey’s Attorney General. The appellate court held: “We reverse because we find the court applied the wrong legal standard and incorrectly failed to accept plaintiff’s factual allegations in the complaint as true.”

Read the decision:

The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation and two other tribes have been recognized by the state of New Jersey for 35 or more years. The Tribe, whose population is severely economically distressed, relied on basic federal benefits tied to its status, including grants for diabetes care and education, and the ability to label their crafts as “Indian made.”

In 2012, however, on behalf of the Christie administration, the Attorney General took the position that New Jersey has no recognized American Indian tribes. This abrupt about-face has led to devastating economic and social consequences for the tribes as access to federal programs has been withdrawn or threatened.

The Tribe was compelled to sue for violations of the New Jersey Constitution in state court and the US Constitution in federal court, alleging unlawful discrimination and violation of their rights to due process and equal protection of the laws.

On October 27, 2016 the federal court dismissed the Attorney General’s Motion to Dismiss in a pointed 42-page opinion. In that case the parties are deep into discovery, with the Tribe preparing to soon depose key state officials.

Read the decision: http://www.culturalheritagepartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Decision.pdf

The state court, in contrast, dismissed the Tribe’s complaint in its entirety. Today’s decision reverses the state court’s decision. Thus, the Tribe is pursuing active cases in both courts.

Tribal Co-Chief Mark Gould said, “We are deeply grateful and prayerful for the Appellate Court’s carefully considered decision.”

“Five judges in two courts have now told the Attorney General in detailed written opinions that if the facts alleged by the Tribe are true, the Tribe has legitimate claims for constitutional civil rights violations. One wonders how much clearer a message the defendant requires to realize the error of his actions,” said Greg Werkheiser, counsel for the Tribe.

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