This section has outlined opposition to the Ramapough’s identity as a Native American nation, situating this in a social and cultural context that is inhabited by derogatory depictions of the degeneracy of mixed race communities and a longing for pure categories of identity. The imposed narratives discussed in this chapter have served to sooth discomfort or unease about the painful history and culpability of our nation’s treatment of Indigenous peoples. This is much easier to bear when it is perceived to be at a distance of both time and space. It is easier to think that “it didn’t happen here,” and “it’s not happening now.”
This may also conveniently offer absolution from legal and financial responsibilities and remove cumbersome hurdles that stand in the way of development by interests such as the gaming industry. Such opaque stories and narratives obscure other stories and other evidence. The problem is not an absence of those other stories or that other evidence. The problem is the heavy and immovable presence of just one narrative.
Gaps are openings, places where new evidence can be considered. There is much to reconsider about Native American history in New Jersey in light of these openings. Historians need to dig further, doing careful work, to fill in some of these gaps. It is likely that the Ramapough encountered different communities in the isolated regions of the state where they sought safety. Every single aspect of their stories of survival and continuity in the face of ongoing colonial suppression of their freedoms deserves to celebrated, not subjected to the scientific racism that inhabits the eugenics-inflected sources that have been used to define them to this day. It is important to engage in a search for archives of knowledge that exist outside of the colonial framework, and that draw from Native American intellectual traditions as serious sources of evidence. Jean M. O’Brien points out that:
“ Even though Indigenous peoples have always understood their place within the created world according to narratives (many rooted in oral transmission supplemented with other memory technologies, such as winter counts, wampum belts, memory piles, pictographs, and more), Indigenous voices and agency in producing historical narratives have rarely been accorded a place of legitimacy in the formal discipline of history and have instead been dismissed as ‘myth,’ ‘legend,’’folklore,’ or ‘saga.’ ”
- Jean M. O’Brien, White Earth Ojibwe
Scholars of Native American and Indigenous Studies have suggested that we might revisit early American history, providing enhanced and more nuanced understandings of the period if we would take into account such evidence as legitimate. This means expanding our archives to include Indigenous-language texts and oral traditions, as well as considering image-based and material-object texts (Pleasant, Wigginton, and Wisecup 2018 p.409).
Despite the brutal weight of colonial histories and Allotment and Termination, much has survived and endured, and still speaks back to us, if we would only listen. Stories, material culture, traditional (but not static) practices, and an abiding relationship with the land are present today. This is another archive. But let us also be careful not to think of this as an archive of historical documents; to do so would push connections and relationships back in time, and miss the current relationships that can also be made legible in the present.