For my experiential work outside the classroom, I filmed an interview with Vivian Milligan for the Ringwood Library’s Oral History Project. This project is a series of interviews with people “who have helped to make or witnessed the history of Ringwood, New Jersey,” according to its Facebook page. The interview that I filmed focused on the history of Upper Ringwood and the community of people who live there. The people of this community are of mixed descent, and most identify themselves as Ramapough Mountain Indians.
Vivian spoke for nearly three hours about the history of her family, her community, and the land they live on. She articulated the fact that the environment in Upper Ringwood (which is very scenic) played a major part in shaping the culture there. The Ramapoughs of Ringwood grew up playing outside, hiking in the woods, hunting and growing vegetables (living off the land). Respect for nature is a common community virtue amongst Native American tribes like the Ramapoughs. However, in this particular community in Upper Ringwood, the Ramapoughs were being poisoned by the very land that they loved.
Vivian went on to speak about the immense amount of toxic waste (paint sludge and other chemicals) that Ford Motor Company dumped in her community decades ago. In the past two or three decades, she noticed that more and more of the people in her community were dying of cancer, and that the longevity that was always present in the community was becoming a thing of the past. Vivian explained that once she realized this, she gained access to the membership records of the community church (Church of the Good Shepherd) and was astonished at the number of church members who had died in recent years.
Vivian and her fellow community members began looking further into the cleanup of the toxic waste that the EPA claimed to have done years before. They found that although the site was taken off of the Superfund list and deemed “clean” by both Ford and the EPA, there was still paint sludge visible on the surface (let alone whatever was buried in the mine shafts or had seeped into their groundwater supply over the years): and so began the local movement that led to the community’s group lawsuit against Ford Motor Company.
As I listened to Vivian talk about all of this, the cruel irony of the situation dawned on me. This group of people who have a unique respect and love for the land and its creatures were, in essence, punished for it. The lengthy amounts of time spent by the Ramapoughs out in the woods or playing in the yard was exposing them and their children to toxic chemicals with lethal health effects. The courage and resolve that Vivian possesses was evident in her account of her people’s struggles. To this day, she has not stopped fighting.