As we approach the Fourth of July, most of New Jersey will be celebrating our independence from the United Kingdom with fireworks, barbecues, beers and jingostic flag waving.
But New Jersey has an unpaid debt to settle that the holiday revelers have conveniently chosen to ignore: The Lenape people.
Before New Jersey was New Netherland, New Sweden or the Province of New Jersey also known as New Caesarea, the proud Lenape people lived on the land that has become the state. It was their nation. It was their country. And it still is rightfully their land.
Through colonization, a genocide was undertaken against the Lenape and the remaining survivors were mostly dumped into third world living conditions at Native American tribal reservations in Oklahoma, where for years the federal government purposefully misclassified them as Cherokee.
New Jersey must establish politically sovereign Lenape reservations on available public lands statewide (such as Fort Monmouth) and encourage the Lenape to return to their homeland. A formal apology must be issued and financial reparations must be paid. Lenape residing outside the state due to historical displacement must be given the right to vote in New Jersey elections. The Unami and Munsee languages spoken by the Lenape must be revived and made official languages of the state and taught in our schools.
New Zealand has recently sought to incorporate the aboriginal Maori culture and language into mainstream New Zealand society. Until the State of New Jersey takes similar steps for reconciliation with the Lenape, the status quo is effectively de facto approval of history’s injustices. New Jersey should set an example for the rest of America and the world on indigenous rights.
In the meantime, I stand in solidarity with the struggle of the proud Lenape people and encourage others to join me.