by Bill Magargal
Keynote Speaker Chief Mann was a real inspiration to our conference attendees. He began his talk by describing life growing up in a socially and economically disadvantaged community, the daily indignities other students at school inflicted, and how difficult life was for him as a boy and young man. He shared some of the history of his people, "Keepers of the Pass," one of the few Munsee Lenape Eastern indigenous peoples remaining on their ancestral land.
Chief Mann described the tribe's recent struggles with rare cancers and birth defects caused by the toxic land ceded to them about 20 years ago on what has since been labeled by the EPA as the Ringwood Mines Superfund site. It turns out that a contractor for Ford Motor Company dumped huge amounts of highly toxic paint sludge there during the 60s and 70s. Ford and the EPA have taken some steps to remove the contaminated soil, but the larger problem is that the entire regional aquifer is now contaminated with toxins.
Clearly, the Ramapough and other indigenous peoples in the area have gotten a raw deal for centuries. What was amazing to our attendees was how Chief Mann has been able to get past the poverty, indignities, and daily struggles in his life to become an effective leader of his community. His words to us showed no malice, and in fact he reminded us that we "all need to embrace our humility, our humanness, our desire to live in peace."
After his presentation, Chief Mann and his delightful life partner and wife, Mikie Picaro, met with people in the hallway answering questions for more than an hour. Anyone interested in learning more about the Lunaape (or better yet who would like to make a donation) can visit the Ramapough Culture and Land Foundation website.