Chief Vincent Mann is chief of the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation. He is Trustee of the Highlands Coalition, and a former member of the Ringwood Mines Superfund Site Citizen Advisory Group (CAG). He is currently working towards the long-term goals of cultural restoration and food sovereignty as co-founder of the Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm. As a advocate for cultural and enviromental issues he continues to to offer up prayers for humanity and for our natural environment.
Why is the clean up at the Ringwood Mines Superfund Site still ongoing?
The EPA reassured us that all the contaminants had been removed when they first ended the cleanup in 1994. It’s possible that they could have missed something because there were many problems with the documents provided by Ford. But why did it take 12 years to relist the site on the National Priorities List? In those years Ford, DEP, EPA, the state of New Jersey, they all said that it was safe for us to live there. They said it was “protective of human health and the environment.” But when Jan Barry from The Record went out there in 2004 – all the barrels were in exactly the same spot! He has photos of what he saw right there in his essay. They gave us another death sentence through more and more years of toxic exposure.
What role does water play in the case of the contaminated site?
The Wanaque Reservoir is very close to the Superfund site. Park Brook, which runs through Ringwood, eventually drains down to the reservoir. Those ponds, brooks and streams in Ringwood used to be clean. The water used to be drinkable. But we know what it looks like now. The reservoir is the main reason that the dumping stopped, because they knew what chemicals could eventually end up there, and it’s really important as a drinking water source. Many places, like Newark, get their water from there. Even Budweiser cancelled their contract with the Wanaque. Clean water is a right. There is no magnesium in spring water. Everyone has the right to drink water from the ground.
Raindrops eventually make streams and rivers. We don’t know where that rain is going to fall again. So we are all connected in this way - like water. If we take care of the water and the air, the rest is easy.
How has the contamination affected the everyday lives and cultural practices of Ramapough TurtleClan? Are there any current projects and initiatives that address these changes?
So much has been disrupted and lost. We’ve lost people we love and the ways we used to live. We have lost a lot of community elders and there is a lot that we need to relearn. Now we are offering Lunaape language classes at Ramapo College. In June, 2018 we did a “Paddle against Addiction” - a canoe trip along the Wallkill River. There is a lot of rebuilding and reconnecting that must be done, and a lot of connections that need to be made. The struggles that we are facing are not unique to us. When I spoke to a group of people interested in environmental justice in Newark this past November, there were a lot of similar stories from people all over the country.
What are your hopes for larger projects in the future?
One of the things we would like to do is to create a cultural interpretation center and museum to showcase crafts created by our people. An environmental education center is another goal, a place that includes a pow wow ground area. This center would have a green roof, healing plants, and sweat lodges. There is a great need for a place of healing, from addiction and from spiritual deprivation. This would be a place for instructors to teach more about Native culture. We need to have land owned in a non-profit structure. Then we can create green tech and grow trees, and we can create colleges that focus on educating Native students. We need to create places for people who want to live like Indians, but that are not cut off from others.
“ We all know that Columbus was a murderer. It doesn’t mean that we need to go dump red paint on statues. It’s about creating other statues.”
- Chief Vincent Mann
What do you see as some major needs and issues for your people today?
We have been saying for years that we do not want a new recycling center to be constructed in our community, but the plans keep getting pushed forward. It is a bad idea - with all of the heavy traffic associated with the recycling center, and the vibration created by large trucks driving over the thin cap that they installed over the toxic waste-filled soil. This is not good for our community, or for any other nearby communities. We need to keep telling our story and to keep bringing attention to this environmental disaster, and to its impact on our people. This is our history, and it’s the history of America. We all know that Columbus was a murderer. It doesn’t mean that we need to go dump red paint on statues. It’s about creating other statues.