Prior to European colonization, the Ramapough Lenape Nation welcomed neighboring peoples from across the region to join them at Akuy Eenda Maawehlaang, their sacred gathering space, at pivotal moments in history in order to reach important political decisions together.
Akuy Eenda Maawehlaang means “The Place Where People Gather” in the Munsee language, spoken by Lenape people from present-day Long Island to New Jersey, and beyond. Today, in Mahwah, New Jersey, a Sheraton Hotel stands in the place where people gathered.
In recent decades, Ramapough people have gathered elsewhere in Mahwah: specifically on a 14 Acre plot of their ancestral land, returned to them in 1995. However, since they put up Tipis in support of Standing Rock, the township of Mahwah has made it illegal for Ramapough Lenape people to use their land — specifically for prayer.
After several hundred years of genocide, the Ramapough Lenape people remain, and their struggle for survival continues. I have been doing my best to document this story, and to share it far and wide. The government is attempting to out the indigenous people whom we should be listening to — as is the case in so many other places in the world today.
The movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock was not solely grounded in efforts to protect the land against poisonous oil leakage.
Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, founder of Standing Rock’s Sacred Stone Camp explains:
The U.S. government is wiping out our most important cultural and spiritual areas. And as it erases our footprint from the world, it erases us as a people. These sites must be protected, or our world will end, it is that simple. Our young people have a right to know who they are. They have a right to language, to culture, to tradition. The way they learn these things is through connection to our lands and our history.
This is what is happening to the Ramapough Lenape Nation of Akuy Eenda Maawehlaang (The Place Where People Gather), also known as Mahwah, NJ.
In December of 2016, I accompanied my father Jonathan Demme (JD) to Standing Rock in order to document the work of the water protectors defending life on earth.
This film is the result: Protection Not Protest: The People Of Standing Rock, and I highly recommend that everybody see it.
Akuy Eenda Maawehlaang: The Place Where People Gather, the film for which we are currently seeking support, started there as well.
JD heard about a water protection prayer camp in Mahwah, NJ, a little over 15 miles from our family’s home in Nyack, NY. Shortly thereafter, I accompanied him to the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, under the leadership of Chief Dwayne Perry.
Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp formed after a delegation of Ramapough Lenape people gathered at Standing Rock. Upon returning to their homeland, they formed the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp, at home in Mahwah New Jersey, against the threat of the Pilgrim Pipeline.
At the formation of this prayer camp, signaled by the presence of Tipis, Tents, and additional prayer-oriented infrastructure, tensions increased dramatically among the Ramapough Lenape Nation, the Township of Mahwah, and the Ramapo Hunt and Polo Club — a private homeowners association which the Tribal land is connected to.
Nearly two years later, it is illegal for Ramapough people to pray on their own land, or to gather on it for any reason. Moreover, the Township of Mahwah continues to fine the Ramapough Nation Tens of Thousands of dollars each week for the presence of ‘Illegal Structures’ on tribal land. These fines currently exceed One Million Dollars.
If the tribe cannot afford to pay its legal financial dues, it will lose its land. Without the land, what will happen to the Ramapough Lenape Nation in 2019, and beyond? What impact will this have on the youth? What would happen on Turtle Island (this continent) if we as a society listened to and supported the people who managed to preserve their ancestral connections to this land?
Please help us to shine a light on this URGENT issue, so that together we may do the right thing as neighbors and as human beings, for life on earth.
Brooklyn Demme is a filmmaker and writer based in Nyack, NY. His faith in documentary as a vehicle for social change grew from experience working on projects with his father, Jonathan Demme (I Am Caroline Parker, What’s Motivating Tyrone Hayes, and Protection Not Protest: The People Of Standing Rock), often as a PA. His interest and experience broadened further as an intern at the inspiring documentary collective Kartemquin Films. This is Brooklyn’s first time directing, and it has been an invigorating and wildly humbling experience working with the Ramapough Lenape Nation.
Azure Rouet McBride is filmmaker, photographer and editor based in LA. She spent half a year in the south of France studying French Cinema and working at the Cannes Film Festival before moving to Brooklyn, New York to study film. Prior to earning her degree, she studied under the likes of Spike Lee, Jonathan Demme and Prince. After earning her B.F.A at Pratt Institute, Azure moved to LA to co-found The PNQ (pronounced “pink”) collective, a women identifying art collective producing original artwork, films, dance and music. Her two films “Cleanse” and “Run Brother,” both PNQ collective initiatives, travelled across the country in various film festivals and panels throughout the states. Azure currently resides in Los Angeles, California and travels internationally to do her work.
Norris Francis Branham is a Professional Audio/Visual engineer, editor, Artist, Documentary film maker, multimedia specialist and speaker who uses his life experiences and history to Motivate others.
Born June 16, 1970, Norris is Married with 3 children looking forward to the best life has to offer. He is an artistic soul who uses his unique set of skills to Make Turtle Island Great Again, by creating educational works of Art for the world Focusing on the rights of Indigenous people World wide. He is the producer of over 25 short educational documentaries as well as music videos. Powerful documentaries such as, Noble Drew Ali “Prophet of the People” featuring Taj Tarik Bey and Sabir Bey. 711 to 1492, The Moors of Europe featuring Afrika Bambaataa and Hakim Green, and The Nicene Council For Hip Hop featuring KRS-One. Norris’ latest film, WHEN IS AN INDIAN NOT AN INDIAN? When he is a Negro! is a documentary about his Lenni-Lenape ancestry, and the effects which official reclassification as African American, had on his family’s history.
Bonnie Elder Yassky After serving as film director Jonathan Demme’s operations officer/archivist/art wrangler/ enthusiast/script purveyor and occasional producer, Bonnie joined the JBFC team in November 2017 as Manager of Special Projects and is delighted to be working along side Jonathan’s compatriots at his home away from home.
Malik Abdul-Rahmaan is a Brooklyn-based music producer, DJ and composer who has worked with artists from around the globe. He is the creator of the narrative based music series Field Research, which blends his ethnomusicology and record digging backgrounds with field recordings collected during his explorations through different countries and emerging global musical movements. Malik is also a graduate of The New School, located in New York City. As a student he was hired as a private lesson instructor at The New School’s famed Jazz School – home to such names as Robert Glasper and Roy Hargrove – where he taught students about various aspects of music production and technology. He still offers lessons to up and coming music producers in between creating his various works.
Much of the footage which we will be drawing from on this film has already been shot. However, this round of fund-raising will cover any opportunities for additional shoot days which may emerge in the coming months.
Our team is immensely excited to enter post production on this project. Azure and Brooklyn are currently preparing to release a teaser in late November, in time for Thanksgiving.
Beyond that, our short film may be completed as early as the new year, and by no later than early next summer.
- Gear: 4.5k
- Research: 1k
- Promo/Miscellaneous: 1k
- Music: 2.5k
- Producer: 2k
- Producer: 3k
- Director/Producer: 5k
- Editor: 5k
- Ramapough Lenape Honorarium: 6k
Over the last several months, I have assisted the Ramapough Lenape nation in creating a couple quick-turn-around press release videos. These videos will give you a more raw experience of some of our footage, and show you some of the places we have been together.
Risks and challenges
Our intention is for this film to raise awareness of the Ramapough Lenape Nation so that we as a society can listen to and support them in their spiritual, cultural, and linguistic practice and preservation.
Distribution for this film remains unclear, and will likely be a challenge that we face.