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Author: Alexander Halprin

Final Paper

Alexander Halprin

12th December 2018

The Ramapo People and Environmental Racism


Throughout the late 20th century and continuing into the early 21st century, the American dream began to seem less and less realistic. As wages stagnated and the middle class eroded, the gap between rich and poor widened. Overall, some groups have benefited from this while others have been left behind. One such group is the indigenous community with in the United States. Specifically, pressure within indigenous communities and disputes regarding their land have reached a tipping point within the last 20 years, especially among indigenous communities that are not recognized at a federal level. Lack of federal recognition complicates already challenging legal matters, especially with regards to zoning and use of land. This paper will focus upon how the environment plays a role in the separation of class within the context of a local indigenous community in northern New Jersey and an EPA superfund site that exists within the bounds of reserved land. Ford Motor Company and Pilgrim Pipeline vs. Ramapo Mountain Indians reveals a causative relationship between the socio-economic status of communities and the environmental regulation, zoning laws and natural beauty of the land surrounding these communities.

Background: The Ramapo Lenape Nation

The Ramapo Lenape Nation is a group of about 5,000 people living around the Ramapo Mountains of Bergen and Passaic counties in northern New Jersey and Rockland County in southern New York, about 25 miles from New York City. Officially recognized by the state of New Jersey in 1980, but lacking any federal recognition, they claim to descent from the Lenape indigenous peoples, and share descent from peoples of Dutch, African, Caucasian, and other European ancestry. Originally speaking Munsee, a Lenape dialect, they speak English today, but are working to restore the influence of the Munsee language among their members. Until the late 1970s, the tribe was referred to derogatorily as the “Jackson Whites”, which is derived from “Jacks” and “Whites”, a reflection of their multiracial ancestry. Their land in the Ramapo Mountains is the subject of continuous social, legal and political controversy. Due to lack of federal recognition, their ancestral land is vulnerable to development prospects. Developments in close proximity to these “Mountain people”, as they’re most commonly referred to, have grown over the last 50 years as the population within the area has risen and threatened the isolated nature of their way of life. One such development is called the “Polo Club”, a private community with wealthy residents. The boundary of the Polo Club intrudes into a stretch of the Ramapo reservation itself. It lies beyond the physical limits of the “Highlands Preservation Area,” the official name for land that is inhabited by Ramapo Mountain Indians. According to Mahwah’s schedule of district use regulations, the Polo Club is listed as zoned under a unique category called “Conservation”. This category includes zoning definitions for “public open space, including hiking, horseback riding, wildlife preserves, aboretums, botanical gardens, historical edifices, woodland areas, hunting and fishing facilities, [among] other similar uses” (Township of Mahwah). It also lists an entry for “single-family detached residences, with 200,000 sq. ft. minimum lots” (Township of Mahwah). This implies that discrepancies in Mahwah’s zoning laws allow for high-income housing developments to be built in areas in Mahwah that would normally otherwise not be zoned for housing. Additionally, Mahwah township is able to change their district zoning code at will to accommodate the development of housing at the request of developers. The source of this development is traced to the opening of a new corridor of Interstate 287 through the Bergen-Passaic area, which paved the way for industry and jobs to develop within the previously rural expanse during its opening in 1993. With its proximity to the Highlands Preservation Area, real estate developers saw a large demand for newly built homes in the area. Additionally, towns that had exits off the Interstate began to see the construction of new stores and facilities due to population increases. Another large catalyst for similar development was Ford’s Mahwah Assembly plant, which opened in 1955.

Case 1: The Ford Motor Company

More than 30 years ago, the Ford Motor Company (abv. FMC) operated a manufacturing plant in the lowly township of Mahwah New Jersey, about 30 miles from New York City and right along the New York- New Jersey border in the Hudson valley. This plant was mainly responsible for assembly of various Ford and Lincoln automobiles and produced over 6 million vehicles before its closure in 1980. Occupying almost 172 acres, it was the largest assembly plant in the country when it first opened its doors in 1955. Over the 30 years of the plant’s operation, FMC repeatedly and intentionally mishandled the storage of waste, often illegally dumping it in the woods about two miles from the plant. Whether FMC was aware of it or not, these “woods” were actually home to an the indigenous community known as the Ramapo Mountain Indians, or Ramapo Lenape Nation in the township of Ringwood, NJ. FMC’s mishandling of the waste ended up releasing volatile organic compounds, 1, 4 dioxane[1], lead[2], arsenic[3] and various other toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment. The 500 acre Ringwood Mines/Landfill site is located in a historic mining district within Passaic County NJ. from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, the area was popular for iron and zinc mining, and the site features various pits, shafts and other mining related structures, many of which FMC chose to utilize for the storage of toxic paint sludge. (EPA) With the Ramapo Lenape Nation in close proximity to the site, the effects of toxic chemicals began to manifest themselves in many of the community residents. Reported incidents of cancer, specifically lung cancer, neurological effects and lead poisoning were significantly higher versus surrounding communities from 1979-2002. In the 1980s, the EPA designated the Ringwood Mines/Landfill site as a Superfund Site for cleanup. (EPA) Around 7 years after the plant’s closure, the Environmental Protection Agency removed over 7,000 cubic yards of paint sludge and associated soils from the site. The EPA identified further remediation three more times as additional sludge sites were found. Following further investigation, The EPA returned the site to the National Superfund Priorities list, the only site to be relisted a second time in the United States. In 2006, over 600 Ramapo Indians, with the aid of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., filed a mass tort suit  (Mann v. Ford) against the Ford Motor Company and contractors as well as the township of Ringwood, New Jersey for the improper disposal and dumping of waste. Ford ended up settling with a $12 million payout to 650 Ramapo Lenape Nation families. That same year, Ford profited $2.7 billion on sales of automobiles.

Case 2: Pilgrim Pipeline

The Pilgrim Pipeline is a proposed 178 mile pipeline that would extend from Albany, New York to Linden, New Jersey. It would deliver in excess of 200,000 barrels of oil to Linden. Current plans for the pipeline call for it to run along the New York State Thruway (Interstate 87), a route which would run through over 28 different municipalities within the state of New York and 29 different municipalities in New Jersey.

“The proposed pipeline route travels through densely populated residential areas, near schools, hospitals and businesses, and would cut through environmentally sensitive and protected areas, including the Highlands region in NJ, which provides drinking water to more than 4.5 million people in NJ.” (CAPP)

In protest of the pipeline and in solidarity with Standing Rock, the Ramapo Lenape Nation founded a prayer camp, called “Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp” on their reserved land in Mahwah, New Jersey. The Pipeline’s planned route runs directly through this reservation and could potentially threaten the water quality of the streams, rivers and other bodies of water in the region. So far, the Ramapo Nation has led dozens of demonstrations and protests against this Pipeline. Wanaque reservoir, which serves clean water to over a quarter of Northern New Jersey, is proximal to the path of this pipeline. A pipeline oil spill could result in irreversible and expensive damage to the Wanaque reservoir and threaten the water quality to all municipalities that rely on Wanaque water. Additionally, the proximality of highly flammable and explosive chemicals poses an unprecedented health risk to all of the residential communities this pipeline will pass through.

“Between 1986 and 2013 pipeline accidents have spilled an average of 76,000 barrels per year or more than 3 million gallons. This is equivalent to 200 barrels of oil spilled into the environment every day. (CAPP)”

With protests garnering national media attention due to similar anti-pipeline demonstrations from Sioux tribes occurring in North Dakota, the Ramapo Lenape Nation succeeded in stalling efforts for construction of the Pilgrim Pipeline. However, their ancestral land remains at threat. The township of Mahwah, New Jersey’s zoning laws have restricted the growth of the Lenape Nation in recent years. This is in addition to a lack of federal recognition that impedes the business prospects of the Lenape Nation. In 1993, Donald J. Trump filed a lawsuit against tribes in Connecticut and Northern New Jersey, blocking federal recognition of these respective groups. If Connecticut or New Jersey tribes had gained Federal recognition, it could have led to the development of casinos in these areas, which would be in direct competition of Trump’s properties in New Jersey. Now that Donald Trump is president of the United States, it seems ever more unlikely that these tribes will be able to achieve federal status.












Works Cited:

  1. Hubbard, Daniel. “Relationship Between Ramapoughs And Polo Club Is Broken: Letter.” Stone Mountain-Lithonia, GA Patch, Patch, 15 Feb. 2018, patch.com/new-jersey/mahwah/relationship-between-ramapoughs-polo-club-broken-letter.
  2. Gowers, Joe. “RINGWOOD MINES/LANDFILL Site Profile.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 20 Oct. 2017, cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.Cleanup&id=0200663#bkground.
  3. McGrath, Ben. “Strangers on the Mountain.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/03/01/strangers-on-the-mountain.
  4. Bischoff, Henry, and Mitchell Kahn. From Pioneer Settlement to Suburb: a History of Mahwah, New Jersey, 1700-1976. A.S. Barnes, 1979.
  5. http://clerkshq.com/content/attachments/mahwah-nj/c24_distregs.pdf
  6. “New Jersey Community Endures Decades of Ford’s Toxic Legacy.” ENN, 4 Oct. 2005, enn.com/articles/2760-new-jersey-community-endures-decades-of-fords-toxic-legacy.
  7. Pritchard, Evan T. Native New Yorkers the Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York. Council Oak Books, 2007.
  8. DePALMA, ANTHONY. “Ramapough Tribe Sues Ford Over Sludge Dumping in New Jersey.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2006, nytimes.com/2006/01/19/nyregion/ramapough-tribe-sues-ford-over-sludge-dumping-in-new-jersey.html.
  9. “As Construction Near Standing Rock Restarts, Pipeline Fights Flare Across the U.S.” The Intercept, 19 Feb. 2017, theintercept.com/2017/02/19/as-construction-near-standing-rock-restarts-pipeline-fights-flare-across-the-u-s/.
  10. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=953&tid=199
  11. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2018/04/05/proposed-pilgrim-pipelines-threaten-water-supply-nyc-indigenous-groups/



Chemistry Notes:

[1] 1,4-Dioxane is a trace contaminant of some chemicals used in cosmetics, detergents, and shampoos.


[2] Lead compounds are used as a pigment in paints, dyes, and ceramic glazes and in caulk.


[3] Arsenic is used industrially as an alloying agent, as well as in the processing of glass, pigments, textiles, paper, metal adhesives, wood preservatives and ammunition.


Research Draft

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Research Proposal

In my first year writing class “landscape and place”, we studied how the natural environment correlates with wealth and learned about the concept of “environmental racism”. For example, higher class people tend to live in scenic areas with more trees, while lower class people tend to live in urban areas. I thought that studying the societal impacts of this so-called “environmental racism” would make for a great research topic in this class. For my topic, I wanted to focus upon a storied community that I know of first-hand and that piqued my curiosity during my time living nearby.

Continue reading


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