A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that a Native American tribal group can still try to prove in court that it has rights to land in Burlington County that was used as a reservation more than two centuries ago.
No claim, however, is currently being pursued by the group, Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia upheld a 2008 lower court ruling that another tribal group, the Unalachtigo Band of Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Nation, failed to establish its lineage to the Indians of the Brotherton Reservation in what is now Shamong Township.
The Unalachtigo band, which filed the original lawsuit, wanted to take the Brotherton site and swap it for land in Burlington and Bergen Counties to build casinos.
The Stockbridge-Munsee intervened in the suit to block the Unalachtigo band, claiming that the Stockbridge-Munsee were the rightful heirs to the land.
Senior District Court Judge Joseph Rodriguez ruled that the Stockbridge-Munsee also failed to demonstrate their lineage to the Brotherton Indians.
The Third Circuit court ruled that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the Stockbridge-Munsee motion after it dismissed the Unalachtigo claim.
The Stockbridge-Munsee have not expressed an interest in making a claim on the land or seeking gambling. "They chose not to pursue this claim at this time," said the tribe's lawyer, Donald B. Veix Jr.
At the heart of the dispute is 3,044 acres of land that New Jersey, as a colony in 1758, turned into the Brotherton reservation for Delaware Indians in exchange for giving up their claims to other lands.
In 1801, the impoverished tribe asked New Jersey to sell its reservation - which the state did - and help it move to another reservation in New York. Both tribal groups argued that the sale of the reservation violated a 1789 federal law that required Congress to approve the sale of any Indian lands.
The bulk of the former Brotherton land is now privately owned.