By Virginia DiBianca
I have lived in New Jersey all my life and, in the last 30 years, in Wayne a town about 15 miles from Mahwah. When I first moved there, somebody mentioned that I should be careful of a group known as “The Jackson Whites”. They explained that they were an inbred tribe of mountain people who were mentally retarded and would attack people that tried to infiltrate their land. I believed them and never ventured towards Ringwood or Mahwah if I could help it. It wasn’t until I read an article entitled “Strangers on the Mountain” in the March 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker magazine I discovered the truth about these so called clansmen. Officially, they were a tribe of Indians called the Ramapoughs that settled in areas of Ringwood and Mahwah, raising their children and living off the land to sustain their lifestyle. Living off the land turned out to be their biggest danger.
I learned in the expose’ “Toxic Legacy," that Ford contaminated the Ringwood area the Ramapough Indians lived by disposing of toxic paint sludge. The site was the ideal location for dumping as it met the standard set by Ford - the property was inhabited by low-class people. Ford bought the former iron mining community and turned it into a hazardous waste dump. Attempts by a Ford engineer to convince the company’s executives to invest on a system that would effectively dispose of the paint residue through a safe method was rejected. They claimed that the expense involved in removing the paint was determined to be more than the cost of the paint itself. While this were true, Ford spent over $2 million dollars on the initial clean up, plus attorney expenses that are still ongoing. It has since paid much more in additional cleanup work and because of lawsuits by residents.
The Ramapoughs are struggling with health issues that include various cancers that have claimed the lives of children and adults. There are learning disabilities amongst its children that are credited to high levels of lead found in the ground. 23% of the Ramapough teenagers do not finish high school. While the drop out rate may not be related directly to the toxins, it is a side affect that coincides with how they are treated. They are teased in school for being who they are. They suffer from ailments such as asthma and skin rashes that lead to low attendance. The dumping of lead in their backyard did not help.
Whatever the Ramapoughs are, they were a community that was mistreated and misunderstood. This Indian tribe lived their life within their boundaries, working to support their simple lifestyle. Along came the Ford Motor Company, which decided these people were not worthy of that. The tribe is being broken up as the children are abandoning their heritage and looking to escape their fate by relocating to other areas. In an old movie, Casablanca, there is a line that goes, “human life is cheap." It is never truer than the way Ford mistreated their neighbors and the state of New Jersey.