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Rally at Bethel Indian Town, NJ

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  • Rally at Bethel Indian Town, NJ

    rlerner@thnt. com
    MONROE - Four American Indian men sat in a small circle striking an
    animal-skin drum, chanting, as a crowd of about 40 people stood
    beneath the
    trees at Thompson Park on Saturday and looked on.

    "Every indigenous (culture) believed that we're all related," said
    Brett Pepomahemen, a drummer and Lenape Indian from Pennsylvania. "We need
    to stand up as human beings to protect what's left of the Lenape

    Pepomahemen spoke to a group of sympathetic faces, including Lenapes,
    environmentalists and history buffs who gathered to honor those who
    lived in
    the 18th century American Indian village called Bethel Mission. Some
    prominent archaeologists and local historians insist it was located here,
    though the township contests those claims.

    The 35-acre tract, currently owned by Middlesex County and protected
    as open space in the Green Acres program, is slated to become a new high
    school in the township's overcrowded district.

    A state-mandated dig by the township's archaeological firm, Richard
    Grubb and Associates, turned up a bevy of 18th-century artifacts on 3.6
    acres here, including a tobacco pipe, a cache of turtle shells and an iron
    hoe. Grubb called the finds "insufficient" to prove Bethel's existence.

    Etaoqua, a Mahican woman of the Muhheakannuck nation, said she doesn't
    need any excavations to tell her the land is sacred.

    "There was a village here. I can feel it. It is a knowing," Etaoqua
    said, standing in a depression on the field that historian Richard Walling
    claims was once the headwaters of Wigwam Brook, the site of Bethel.

    The state Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing the
    study. The agency could ban construction at the site, or do the opposite,
    lifting the Green Acres restrictions and paving the way for the school.

    Carmen Dolson, a councilor from the Munsee Delaware Nation in Ontario,
    Canada, said digging into the land would be an insult. Building on top of
    the land without digging, however, would be less offensive, Dolson said,
    adding that she would like to see a monument to Bethel on the grounds.

    "This is our land," Dolson said.

    Cathy "Starfire Woman" Chadwick-Ciccone, a Lenape from the Six Nations
    Reserve in Ontario, Canada, performed a ceremony to give thanks to "the
    Creator" Saturday. She burned sage and gave a short speech about the
    importance of preserving sites historic to American-Indian culture.

    "What brings me here is that this is Lenape hoking (land). In this
    tri-state area, so much has been tarred and paved over. In our culture, we
    honor our ancestors and those who came before us," Chadwick-Ciccone said.
    "We're doing this for the Lenape children yet to come, letting them know
    that we're still here, we still honor our land."

    Jane Tousman, a member of the executive board of the state Sierra
    Club, said she joined the informal protest because she opposes any
    effort by
    the state to lift Green Acres protection for fear it will set a harmful

    "We've got to make sure this land stays open space and nothing else,"
    Tousman said.

    The township reached an agreement with the county to get the 35-acre
    Thompson Park tract in exchange for swapping 172 acres of its own existing
    open space, plus a $1,127,000 payment, but needs the DEP's green light to
    move forward.

    William Liebeknecht, president of the Archaeological Society of New
    Jersey, told the Home News Tribune in July that he is convinced Bethel was
    at Thompson Park.

    Walling, a local historian who organized the rally, said deeds and
    other archival records provide evidence of the village's existence at
    Thompson Park. Walling has applied to get the site onto the state and
    national historic registers. He wants the site protected from
    he said.

    Township officials have said Thompson Park is the only suitable place
    to build the school in Monroe, a claim that others have publicly

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