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HIGHLANDS HIGHLIGHTS: The Quest for Clean Water

NJ HILLS MEDIA // November 23, 2023

History is told by the victor. This includes the history of the Native Peoples of the United States, their interactions with European colonizers, and the repercussions that continue in contemporary society. Through partnership and various initiatives the New Jersey Highlands Coalition (NJHC) is working to uplift the voices of the Ramapough Lunaape, the original protectors of this beautiful land we call the Highlands.

The Munsee speaking people of northern New Jersey and southern New York have existed in the region for nearly 11,000 years. In the land that is now Jersey City there was an abundance of sacred oyster banks and other natural resources. The larger region of Manahatta (the Lunaape name for Manhattan) and the surrounding Lenapehoking was bursting with food sources including nuts, fruits, animals, and seafood. This natural bounty was often traded along the River between different tribes, and even eventually with early European explorers.  Relations with these early explorers varied from interaction to interaction and at best resulted in trade; however, the goods traded by Europeans often carried sicknesses, such as smallpox, and consisted primarily of addictive alcohols and lethal weaponry. 

Unfortunately within 125 years since first contact with Europeans, the Colonial settlers deliberately dispossessed the Native Peoples of their lives, land, cultures, and dignity through systemic injustices and physical brutality. In 1643, the Dutch committed their first major act of violence in what is known as the Pavonia Massacre, when they slaughtered 120 peaceful men, women, and children. This was followed in 1644, with the massacre of approximately 700 people at Pound Ridge, NY. As colonials continued to take land by force or by deed, the Ramapoughs who did not leave the State, retreated to their sacred lands in the Ramapo mountains.

The violence to the Native People and their land continues to this day. In 1964, in Ringwood, NJ, the Ramapough successfully prevented Ford Motor Company from building executive housing by refusing to relocate from their ancestral lands. Just months after the victory, with the permission of the NJDEP and the Borough of Ringwood, the Ford Motor Company dumped toxic chemicals on lands occupied by the Ramapough, creating a half mile wide by 1.5 mile long Superfund site. The land and those living on it have been poisoned ever since. This area was relisted as a Superfund site in 2006–the only Superfund site ever to be relisted– and continues to poison the people and animals that call the area home.

This history is documented thoroughly: through treaties, land deeds, contemporary news, scientific findings, and passed down through generations of Lunaape Ramapoughs. Yet the voices of those harmed through this historic, systematic, environmental, and cultural abuse and domination have been suppressed within the mainstream American educational curriculum and therefore are not absorbed into the public consciousness. 

The Coalition recognizes that the Highlands is Lenapehoking, and that it was protected for thousands of years by the Munsee speaking people prior to the  treaties, land deeds, and other documents that gave them “permission” to use their own land. The inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been systematically denied to the Native People for hundreds of years. As such, the Turtle Clan’s goal for recognition both culturally for their ceremonial landscapes and federally as a tribe, as well as their bid for relocation from a poisoned land is in line with our mission. To learn more about the traditions and wisdom of the Ramapough Nation, we hope that you will listen to the words of Chief Mann in The Way of the Ramapough, a documentary produced by the Coalition, which can be viewed for free on our YouTube channel. As we promote a more accurate historical account of the experiences of the region’s native people, we will be working closely with the Turtle Clan in calling for their relocation and for federal recognition. Please stay tuned for alerts from us describing the actions you can take in support of these goals.

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