The New Jersey town of Mahwah has issued an ultimatum to the Ramapough Lenape Nation, ordering the tribe to take down the tipis it has assembled on its land in opposition to the Pilgrim Pipeline, which would bring Bakken crude from Albany to refineries in southern New Jersey.
The town has ordered the tribe “to immediately remove any and all structures located on the Property that were constructed in violation of the Township's Zoning Ordinance,” WPIX News reported on May 12.
Tribal members have been opposing the 178-mile-long pipeline with the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp since October 2016 on 13 acres of Ramapough land within Mahwah. But rather than earn the type of support that poured in for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the Ramapough have garnered the ire of the surrounding community—even though, NBC News reported in December, the town also opposes Pilgrim.
The tribe has been holding ceremonies on this land for 25 years, and has inhabited it for centuries. Inspired to stand with Standing Rock and make their own environmental concerns be known, the Ramapough erected a tipi on their land in the fall of 2016. This alarmed the surrounding community, and in December 2016 the township served the Ramapough with a summons stating that they had failed to obtain permits for a permanent structure.
The tribe applied for the proper permits, but in April their application was denied by Township Engineer Mike Kelly. The town gave the Ramapough 60 days to refile their applications.
“What started as a prayer camp to peacefully protest these pipelines has now turned into a fight for survival on our own land,” Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry told ICMN in December.
Nevertheless, the pipeline battle is also aiding that fight, uniting tribal members in a way that has not happened in decades, The New York Times reported in April.
On the one side is Thomas Williams, attorney for the Ramapough, who said the rights of assembly are protected under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law protecting individuals, houses of worship and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning laws. On the other are neighbors of the Ramapough’s Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp who have been less than friendly, according to Perry.
For instance, Perry told Indian Country Media Network (ICMN), people have filmed tribal ceremonies from across the road, leaving when approached. Recently someone erected “No Parking” signs in front of the camp’s roadside property. Ramapough tribal member Two Clouds said that when he asked the man putting up the signs what he was doing, the man said he had been contracted by the Ramapo Hunt and Polo Association, the homeowners’ association in the high-income neighborhood the camp sits in.
The Ramapo Hunt and Polo Association did not return phone calls to ICMN for comment. The president of the association is Paul Scian, who also belongs to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
While the Pilgrim Pipeline is the Ramapough’s main concern, the tribe’s first fight seems to be against the community that surrounds them and the township they are surrounded by.
The Pilgrim Pipeline is not just opposed by the Ramapough. From New York to New Jersey, townships and municipalities have also signed resolutions opposing the project. A list can be found with the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline.
Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, LLC has submitted for a preliminary draft of an Environmental Impact Statement with the New York State Department of Conservation. The pipeline is being funded by Ares Management, L.P.
The tribe is calling for help and support.
“Please come and share as much light as possible because the one thing that integrity, and honesty and democracy demands is light,” Perry said. “As long as some of our neighbors and others can operate in the dark, we are in trouble.”