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N.J.'s American Indians face blatant bias, report says

In recognizing its 20,000 "tribal members," the state "lags . . . rather than leads," the study said.

TRENTON - Blatant discrimination against American Indians thrives in New Jersey, according to a report presented yesterday to Gov. Corzine.

The report, by the New Jersey Committee on Native American Community Affairs, found "lingering discrimination, ignorance of state history and culture, and cynicism rather than shining celebration of the state's tribal members."

"We were disappointed to learn that New Jersey lags behind, rather than leads, at least 15 other states which recognize, respect and celebrate their tribal people through legislative, executive or agency action," the report states. "We were saddened that subtle [and] even blatant discrimination still can thrive in New Jersey."

An estimated 20,000 members of the Nanticoke Leni-Lenape, Powhatan Renape and Ramapough Lenape tribes live in New Jersey.

Corzine appointed the commission in 2006 after a state park police officer fatally shot a Ramapough Lenape on a mountaintop near the New York border after a confrontation that remains under dispute.

Corzine said he would review the recommendations.

Christine Grant, a committee cochair and former state health commissioner, said, "While many New Jerseyans celebrate the strengths associated with the state's racial and ethnic diversity, they are surprisingly unaware of the existence of or the cultural, educational, environmental and economic contributions of New Jersey citizens of American Indian descent."

The committee found "too many examples of discrimination or extreme cultural insensitivity towards these citizens," Grant said.

The report recommends:

Executive orders and legislation affirming the existence of the three tribes in New Jersey and the state's intent to help them qualify for federal benefits.

Protection of human remains, tribal burial plots, funerary objects and artifacts, and archaeological excavations.

Tax exemptions for tribal sacred lands such as burial grounds and open-air worship areas.

Community-relations efforts such as an annual Native American Heritage celebration and cultural training for law enforcement officers, state and local government workers, and the public.

Appointment of a high-level state official to oversee cleanup of the Superfund site in Ringwood that affects the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation and a system to help those affected by the site deal with health-care costs, property damage and relocation.

A program to recruit American Indians for state jobs.

Policies regulating the use of "derogatory and offensive mascots and images" by schools and stricter policies targeting bullying against American Indians in schools.

New health service centers for American Indians.