The Nanticoke Indian Tribe and its sister tribe the Lenni Lenape had something special to honor during the Nanticoke's 39th annual pow wow over the weekend: the First State’s formal recognition of their status as Tribes.
The Lenni Lenape Tribe is considered the “Grandmother tribe” to the Nanticoke Tribe, historically inhabiting parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
And although the tribe was recognized as a State Designated Tribal Area for the purpose of the 2010 Federal US Census – First State lawmakers formally recognized the Lenape and Nanticoke as tribes through bills passed early in August.
Cory Jackson Ridgeway is a member of the Nanticoke, and her husband is Lenni Lenape. She came to the pow wow in Millsboro from her current home in New Jersey.
She says state recognition is important, entitling members of a tribe to certain federal benefits. The Lenni Lenape are currently fighting for it in New Jersey. Between 1982 and 2001, they were recognized at different times by way of executive order, statute, concurrent resolution, and commission appointment.
But in 2001 the state determined tribes could only be recognized by statutes passed from that point forward. And a decision by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office in 2012 is attempting to retroactively strip three tribes, including Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape, of state-recognized status because it did not come by post-2001 statute.
“They had it in the past, and then all of a sudden the state decided they were not recognized anymore," Ridgeway said. "It affects scholarships for the young people, it affects the vendors – they’re not allowed to set up at places because if they do they get fined thousands of dollars. It’s a really hard situation up in New Jersey right now.”
Two lawsuits have been filed by the Tribe, one in state court and one in federal court.
The Tribe alleges the state is motivated by an irrational, racial stereotype-driven fear that all American Indians seek to purchase casinos and conduct gaming.