Ramapough tribe wins right to sue Mahwah over tribal lands

Posted: Updated:
MAHWAH -

A court has ruled that a New Jersey Native American tribe battling a Bergen County town over tribal lands can move ahead with a lawsuit.

Ramapough Mountain Indian Chief Dwaine Perry says that a 13-acre parcel of land in Mahwah is a sacred prayer circle. Perry says that members of the tribe pray outside and that the area is what would be considered a church.

But the tribe and officials in Mahwah have been battling since at least 2016 about the land. Mahwah officials say that the tribe cannot construct teepees without permits. The tribe says that officials have prevented members from holding services and even issued summons over the structures.

But the Justice Department has ruled that the Ramapough Mountain tribe does have legal grounds to pursue a lawsuit.

“It’s joyous news because it indicates that finally, we're going to reach an even playing field and an open and honest look at the issues that have been going on here,” says Perry.

The Justice Department has not made an official ruling yet but says that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act does ensure the right of groups to worship on their own property.

Mahwah town officials did not return calls for comment on the situation.

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