‘We’re Gonna Defend Ourselves,’ Ramapough Nation, Mahwah Officials Spar Over Prayer Ground

MAHWAH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The town of Mahwah is taking the Ramapough Mountain Native American tribe to court over a series of structures including teepees that they’ve put up on their land.

As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, the Ramapough Lunappe Nation has land on Halifax Road in Mahwah.

“This is used for ceremony and prayer,” Owl, an advisor to the nation, explained.

The site has teepees, a yurt, tents, and totem poles.

“We have people here that are watching the land, guarding the land, but these are not permanent structures. We will have meetings in these teepees,” Owl said.

But the town of Mahwah said the structures have to go.

“It’s acting like it’s a camp ground, and you’re not allowed to have a campground in Mahwah Township,” mayor Bill LaForet said.

The land is in a flood plain and a conservation zone. The town has filed a lawsuit in superior court claiming the nation is in violation of zoning laws.

“Importing soil into a floodway that you wouldn’t be able to do in your backyard. You have to abide by the same rules,” LaForet said.

The land is located inside the Polo Club Private Community, the developer gave the land to the tribe in 1995.

“We feel there’s a hidden motive, they want to remove us from the land,” Owl said.

CBS2 spoke with a few neighbors who did not want to go on camera. One man next to the site said he has no problem with what’s going on there. A woman up the road said it’s a huge problem.

Meeting size has increased on the land as the tribe protests a proposed pipeline which could potentially run through here, but the mayor said the town stands with them on that.

“Lockstep about our objections to Pilgrim Pipeline and the impact to our aquifer. Completely in agreement with that,” LaForet said.

The mayor insisted that it’s simply a matter of law. As for the tribe — for now the structures still stand, as does their will.

“We’re gonna defend ourselves, our land, and our waters like we always have, but we’re not moving from this mountain,” Owl said.

They’ll have to defend that land, and themselves in court.

Mahwah officials issued summonses against the tribe last year stating they failed to obtain the necessary zoning permits and moved soil without permission.

Watch & Listen LIVE