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Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Joan M. Quigley, Bonnie Watson Coleman and L. Grace Spencer to have New Jersey officially recognize the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Indians, Ramapough Lenape Indians and Powhatan Renape Indians as American Indian Tribes.was approved Thursday by the Assembly.

The bill (A-2571), approved by a vote of 51-17-8, would allow the three tribes to establish eligibility for federal education, job training and housing benefits and protection for the sale of artwork, qualify for public and private grants, protect the ability to engage in traditional religious practices, preserve and protect burial sites and artifacts and ensuring that handicrafts made by tribal members may be sold as “Indian made.”

The bill does not allow the tribes to use the recognition to establish gambling facilities. It also bars the tribes from selling fuel or tobacco.

“This bill has a very specific purpose – to help American Indian tribes in New Jersey improve their lives,” said Quigley (D-Hudson). “It’s simply wrong for New Jersey to continue to stand idle and do nothing when these tribes could be receiving help to improve their education, job training and housing. This bill is quite simply the right thing to do.”

“The poverty that sadly is often rampant in American Indian tribes has been well documented, but with this bill we will be opening up opportunities to help these tribes improve their quality of life,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). “This recognition can not only improve their lives, but also help preserve their heritage and create some economic growth. Those are all good things for New Jersey.”

“It’s difficult to think that these tribes have been without help that is readily available to them, but that will change with this measure,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “We’ll be enhancing job training, education and housing and boosting a strong American Indian heritage that should make everyone in the state proud. This bill represents a step forward for New Jersey.”

The bill also directs the New Jersey Commission on American Indian Affairs to develop criteria for recognizing an organization, tribe, nation or group as an American Indian tribe and establishes standards for such recognition.

It provides that the commission will review an application for state recognition and submit it recommendation for approval by the Legislature. If the Legislature does not act within one year, the commission’s recommendation would be deemed affirmed.

The bill provides that the commission will develop guidelines and procedures for the protection and preservation of American Indian burial grounds, sacred sites and archaeological sites in New Jersey, which will be the basis for the rules and regulations to be promulgated by the Department of State.

The bill also expands the membership of the New Jersey Commission on American Indian Affairs from nine to 11 members through the addition of one public member who is a recognized expert in American Indian studies and one public member who is a representative of the New Jersey State Museum.