By Stephanie Noda
The part of the whole “Toxic Legacy” scenario that bothers me the most is the way the Ramapoughs were treated by the Ford Motor Company. The paint sludge that was dumped illegally on their grounds did quite a lot of damage to this community. It destroyed the lands they called home; although the Ramapoughs have lived there for centuries, they will probably not be able to live there in the future due to the contamination. The story of Paul Eugene Van Dunk is a prime example of how the Ford paint sludge has ruined the Ramapough’s lives. Van Dunk’s nephew and daughter both died of cancer at an early age, which the family feels is from all the toxic sludge surrounding the area in which they lived. It sickens me that two children died just because Ford decided they didn’t want to properly clean up their mess and just dump it on people that had nothing to do with the factory. Those children could have lived a long, healthy life, but were unable to out of the selfishness of a car company that refused to take responsibility for their actions.
The fact that Ford decide to dump paint sludge primarily on Ramapough lands brings up another issue: environmental racism. Did Ford think that they could get away with polluting lands because they belonged to a group of Native Americans? This disgusting display of racism confounds me, especially since this situation hasn’t been resolved by the American judicial system. The actions of the EPA are also rather horrifying; their insistence that all of the sludge had been cleaned up when there was piles of sludge on the Ramapough’s front lawn boggles my mind. This was the institution that was created to protect us from environmental hazards; even its name, the Environmental Protection Agency, gives the impression that it is the group that will keep us from harm. However, the fact that they are turning a blind eye to this issue really makes me question the credibility of this institution and whether they really have American citizen’s safety as their top priority. It makes me wonder if there are cases similar to “Toxic Legacy” all over the country that we never hear of due to the government going out of their way to refuse to deal with these issues.
Another aspect of the poor treatment of the Ramapoughs that saddens me is the refusal of the national government to recognize them as Native Americans. Although the New Jersey government does grant this privilege, they are not given recognition beyond the state level. It is horrible that a group is being told that they are not who they really are, even though they’ve been part of the Native American culture probably longer than the U.S. government has been in power. What right does the government have to tell a group of people how they are allowed to self identify? Between the paint sludge destroying the Ramapough’s ancient lands and the inability of the government to recognize the culture of an ancient society, the Ramapoughs have not been treated with the respect that they deserve. The government needs to realize that these people are being treated unjustly and give them their rights back.