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Delaware Nation returns to Trenton to renew bond, spur economic development

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ANADARKO, Okla. – The Delaware Nation, a tribe whose ancestors were the original people of New Jersey, recently announced plans to return home to Trenton, N.J. and pursue economic development collaborations in the capital city.

Kerry Holton, president of the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, and Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer signed a memorandum of understanding May 29 as a first step toward what the tribe hopes will be a fresh connection with the region of its ancestors.

Members of the Delaware Nation, also known as the Lenape, lived along the Atlantic seaboard and were among the first Native Americans to come into contact with European settlers in the early 1500s. In 1683 the Delaware Nation created Philadelphia jointly with William Penn. Later, the Delaware Nation militarily aligned with the colonists in the fight for independence. As a result of unfavorable peace treaties and war, the tribe moved westward and is now concentrated in Anadarko, Okla.

“Long before Trenton gained renown as a center for industrial might with steel and pottery manufacturing here – and even before Trenton became the turning point of the American Revolution, Native American influence was very significant,” Palmer said. “At the confluence of the Assunpink Creek and the Delaware River, below the falls, an important transportation center, a river crossroads, has always existed. In fact, this was an important river access point for Native Americans and also was where Mahlon Stacy built one of the largest gristmills in New Jersey, prior to Trenton’s founding.”

“Today, The Delaware Nation is coming home to Trenton, with a strong interest both in renewing this little-known ‘third dimension’ to our history – and in exploring economic development possibilities. That is why we are signing this memorandum of agreement,” Holton said.

The agreement with the city sets in motion the Delaware Nation’s goal to establish clean energy businesses in the city and create green jobs that will boost the local economy.

“The economic downturn has essentially created a level playing field for our small emerging nation and combined with President Obama’s clean energy initiatives has allowed the Delaware Nation to enter into clean energy businesses that create jobs for the community,” said Holton, who described it as a “win-win” situation for the tribe and Trenton.

Holton said the tribe will also pursue redevelopment opportunities at industrial sites and vacant buildings in several sections of the city.

He said the tribe is interested in studying potential uses for a 1.8 acre tract along the Delaware River as well as property currently used for surface parking lots in the city’s downtown.

Holton said the tribe is also considering a green economy initiative to manufacture energy efficient building materials and a partnership to establish a center for high-tech telecommunications.

He said the tribe hopes to tap federal funds earmarked for Native American economic development projects. Currently, the tribe operates a housing authority, environmental office, social services, cultural preservation office and a casino on Indian lands.

Holton said they are not interested in establishing a casino in Trenton. “While the Delaware Nation has been in the gaming industry for more than 10 years, our future business models are based on diversified business opportunities with growth potential in the green alternative energy sector.”

Shelley Zeiger, a Trenton entrepreneur who serves as a consultant for the Delaware Nation, said the business ventures would enhance the city’s economy while enriching its culture.

“I’m delighted to see the Delaware Nation is coming back to its aboriginal territory and helping develop private-sector industry and jobs,” said Zeiger, president of Zeiger Enterprises, an import business.

Zeiger is a longtime booster of the city’s economy. He developed a sister-city relationship with Moscow in 1986 and was instrumental in establishing the Marriott Hotel at Lafayette Yard.