Students in AUNE’s Diversity, Justice, and Inclusion class helped the Ramapough-Lenape Nation in New Jersey organize and publicize a May 5 rally in Mahwah, New Jersey. The rally, called A Prayer for the Earth, spotlighted issues of environmental justice that affect the tribe, especially hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” of underground rock formations to extract oil and gas.
“The Ramapough want to create a space, politically and socially, where they can join with other groups, especially anti-fracking groups, to address these issues,” said John Dunham, an AUNE environmental studies student.
The AUNE students, as part of their class project, are working to convince organizations and political groups, such as 350.org and Wind and Water Watch, to stand side by side with the Ramapough. The class traveled to New Jersey in February to meet with the Ramapough but had been in contact with the tribe for a year before that.
Alesia Maltz, doctoral program director in the Department of Environmental Studies, who teaches the course, said the Ramapough face a “classic environmental justice situation.” The tribe’s historic lands were contaminated by paint sludge from a Ford Motor Co. plant in the 1950s and ’60s; now their lands are under threat from the proposed expansion of a nearby natural gas pipeline.
PhD Student’s Ties to the Ramapough
The Ramapoughs’ struggle was brought to her attention by Walter “Chuck” Stead, a PhD student in environmental studies and an environmental educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension. He grew up in Ramapo, New York, and still lives in the area. “My family goes back five generations with the Indians,” he said.
Stead came to AUNE in 2007 looking for an interdisciplinary program that would allow him to do both advocacy and scholarly work. His doctoral dissertation is on recovery, ecological restoration, and community among the Ramapough. “The Ramapough are very positive about doing this but also reticent because, important as it is, they don’t like too much public attention,” Stead said.
By coincidence, the Ramapough had picked May 5 for their rally—which turns out to be 350.org’s National Day of Action to address climate change. 350.org was started by environmental activist Bill McKibben, who sent a message to the Ramapough rally. “So it fits in very well,” Dunham said. “They hope this rally will be the start of a functioning coalition. They want to get a group of diverse people to focus on the issue, in hopes that diversity will help, because no one will be able to look at one group and dismiss it out of hand.”
Maltz said her goal for the class project is for students to learn how to build coalitions. “You can read all sorts of recipes for coalition building, but it isn’t until you actually do it and have the experience that you know what’s involved,” she said.
Maltz and several students from the class attended the rally.