- Kate Munning
Ramapo Nation Reclaims Split Rock Mountain
It's been a long time coming, but today we celebrate! The Ramapo Munsee Land Alliance (RMLA), the Ramapo Munsee Lunaape Nation, and The Land Conservancy of New Jersey are happy to announce a long-awaited, historic transfer of the Tahetaweew—commonly known as Split Rock Mountain—back to the Ramapo people. This landmark moment returns stewardship of sacred land to the nation for the first time since 1737, before the American Revolution.
This is a moment many years in the making. The Land Conservancy and the Ramapo have been working with community groups, funders, and local government for nearly a decade to purchase the land that makes up Split Rock Mountain, a little-known geological treasure brought by a glacier during the last ice age thousands of years ago.
Straddling the New York-New Jersey border, Split Rock Mountain offers stunning views—including the New York City skyline—from its nearly 800-foot summit. It’s part of the Ramapo Mountains, a haven for wildlife and hikers, that run through northeast New Jersey and into southern New York. The Ramapo allowed General George Washington to use the Ramapo pass, which gave him a key military position and trade route access. This was so pivotal to the colonists’ success in the Revolutionary War that they ended up calling this site “Constitution Hill.” But most importantly, Split Rock is a sacred ancestral site for the Ramapo people.
Ramapo Munsee Lunaape Nation Chief Dwayne Perry said, “This site much like that of Mount Sinai, is where our holy people went to deliberate peace and understanding among other peoples, hence the moniker The Grandfather Tribe. A decision of great importance would be found by tribal elders and brought back down to the fields below, where two long houses stood to welcome the decisions inspired by the energy and the sacred knowledge they had gotten at the Tahetaweew—The Gate That Opens a Learned of the Elders. Xwat Aunushiik.”
RMLA Board Chair Aaron Davis added, “This was an amazing accomplishment—charitable foundations, land conservancy groups, politicians, and indigenous peoples working together to make sure this sacred site is protected. I pray that we can continue to work together in a good way.”
The Land Conservancy of New Jersey raised private funds to purchase the 54-acre property from the Rockland County Sewer District and donated it to the nonprofit RMLA on February 22. David Epstein, President of The Land Conservancy, says, “The Land Conservancy and the Ramapo Nation both share a deep love for the land, and while we can neither account for nor atone for the sins of the past, The Land Conservancy has felt an obligation to do our part to make things right. We are honored to return this remarkable property to the Ramapo Munsee Lunaape Nation and RMLA in the hope that this will inspire a better future for our friends in this resilient tribe.
“This has been a complex process, but The Land Conservancy was up for the challenge. We are pleased to continue helping this community we’ve worked with for over a decade gain back some of what they lost centuries ago. It remains inspiring to help the Ramapo nation lead this movement striving for environmental justice, and to see how many people are joining us in this historic effort.”
The Land Conservancy also assisted the Ramapo in establishing the Ramapo Munsee Land Alliance, a nonprofit land trust that will allow the nation to conduct business, care for the land, and establish gathering places where they can educate future generations. Indigenous-led groups have found that blending cultural practices and traditions with Western science provides the most effective approach to protecting and stewarding the land and waters. This newly formed land trust will allow the Ramapo Munsee Lunaape Nation to have full ownership and decision making on their lands, allowing them to honor their culture and traditions. These efforts, acknowledged collectively as rematriation or the land back movement, advocates for a transfer of decision-making power over land to Indigenous communities.
All of this was made possible thanks to the generous financial contributions of more than fifty private donors including the Doris Duke Foundation and the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference. Together these generous donors helped The Land Conservancy raise $360,000 to purchase the property; clean it up; and pay for surveys, environmental assessments, and title insurance.
In addition to the valuable support of these funders, many groups and individuals have contributed to this success. When the Rockland County Sewer District voted to sell their portion of Split Rock Mountain, the capstone of this project fell into place. And for the past two years, community group MEVO (Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization) has been organizing a series of volunteer days in partnership with The Land Conservancy to clean up decades of illegal dumping on Ramapo land in Mahwah. The community has been showing up to enthusiastically demonstrate their support week after week, ready to work.
The Ramapo Munsee Land Alliance is a 501(c)(3) land trust created by the Ramapo Munsee Lunaape Nation to acquire and care for their ancestral lands. They continue to raise funds to expand their rematriation campaign and can be supported at ramapomunseelandalliance.org.