Ramapough Lenape Nation teepee dispute with Mahwah heads to state court

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The Mahwah teepee dispute heads to state court The Mahwah teepee dispute heads to state court
MAHWAH -

A battle over teepees and land use in Bergen County is heading to a state court.

The Ramapough Lenape Nation has been using an area of Halifax Road in Mahwah as ceremonial grounds for the last 30 years. But trouble began when the tribe recently put up several teepees in support of Standing Rock, North Dakota and to also protest an oil pipeline expected to run through Bergen County.

“We don’t want to wait for these pipelines to rupture and burst, which they have,” says Ramapough Lenape Nation member Owl.

But Mahwah officials say that the proper permits were never filed to erect the teepees and that the area is being used as a place of public assembly and campground, which violates zoning laws.

“Keep in mind that they're trying to build structures and conduct certain activities in the wetlands and in a floodway,” says Mahwah Mayor Bill LaForte.

Mahwah filed a complaint with a state superior court this week demanding that the tribe remove the teepees and tents.

Ramapough Lenape leaders say this is their right to practice free speech and religion and they have no plans to take them down.

"For indigenous people, this is our church. The Earth is our church,” Owl says. “We’re confident that the judge and the people here in New Jersey and the United States will support us."

"We are treating them as we would any other resident. There's no bias here,” LaForte says. "We find ourselves in an unfortunate situation. They continue to say no and we'll let the courts decide this.”

Both sides say that they hope that the judge will reach a decision by next month.

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