Court order struck down in Mahwah teepee dispute

Posted: Updated:
MAHWAH -

A judge has struck down a court order that temporarily barred a Native American tribe in Bergen County from erecting teepees.

The judge found Mahwah had failed to prove the Ramapough Lenape Nation's teepees demonstrated "imminent and irreparable harm." But he also dismissed the tribe's argument that it is entitled to relief from the township's zoning law because it has freedom of religion.

Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry says that he and his tribe are happy with the decision.

“It’s a big weight off our shoulders,” says tribe member Owl. “We want to comply with the rules and regulations. We want to have a safe space. We believe these teepees and tents…are safe structures.”

Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet says that the dispute should never have gone this far.

“I don’t consider there to be any winners or losers. The fact of the matter is, had the tribe showed up on the first day of the hearing, the judge would have had an opportunity to hear both sides,” he says. “They failed to show up, so as a result, the judge imposed [the restraining order].”

Township officials in May said the tribe's 14-acre property is being used as a place of public assembly and as a campground.

The tribe will seek a zoning change to allow it to use the property for religious and cultural purposes.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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