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NY Times obit #1

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    Ronald Van Dunk, Chief of the Ramapough Mountain Indians, Dies at 68 By DOUGLAS MARTIN Ronald Van Dunk, who led the Ramapough Mountain Indians in their
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 10, 2001
      NY Times obit #1

      Ronald Van Dunk, Chief of the Ramapough Mountain Indians, Dies at 68
      Ronald Van Dunk, who led the Ramapough Mountain Indians in their continuing fight to win federal recognition as a tribe, died last Sunday at a nursing home in Suffern, N.Y. He was 68 and had lived in Hillburn, N.Y.

      The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Sheila.
      Mr. Van Dunk, who was known as Chief Red Bone, held the title of grand chief of the 3,000 Ramapough Mountain Indians, who belong to three groups or clans living in Hillburn, in Rockland County, and across the state line in Mahwah and Ringwood in northeastern New Jersey.

      They were recognized as a tribe by New York and New Jersey in 1980, but the federal government has denied their application for tribal status, filed in 1979.

      The importance of tribal recognition grew with the enactment of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, because success would open the way to casino gambling within a half hour of New York City, potentially creating strong competition for Atlantic City.

      New Jersey politicians feared that the Ramapough might establish a casino on a reservation that would pay no state taxes, have no obligation to contribute to the New Jersey Casino Revenue Fund and would not be subject to state regulation.

      Mr. Van Dunk repeatedly insisted that he was interested in reclaiming his people's heritage, along with the educational and welfare benefits to which American Indians are entitled. Any consideration of a casino, he said, could come later.

      He led demonstrations at the doorways of Donald J. Trump, the developer and casino owner, who had sued to stop the Ramapough Indians' effort, as well as at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, where he carried a sign that said, "Bigots in Action." Seeming to undercut his case that gambling was not an objective, Mr. Van Dunk accepted funds for several years from a company that wanted to put a bingo hall on a Ramapough reservation. He later repudiated the alliance.

      The tribe assembled four volumes on its history - the Ramapough Indians say they are descendants of the Lenape tribe who sought refuge in the Ramapo Mountains straddling New York and New Jersey - and hundreds of feet of genealogical data, tracing lineage 5,000 years. Influential supporters were gathered, including Bud Shepard, who wrote the government's guidelines for tribal status in the 1970's.

      But the Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled in 1993 that the Ramapough Mountain People, as they were known for years until they began calling themselves Ramapough Mountain Indians, "did not exist as a distinct community from historic times to the present."

      In November, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will hear the Ramapough appeal of a lower court ruling against the Indians.

      "The fight goes on beyond Chief Red Bone's last breath," said the Ramapough lawyer, Al Catalano.
      Ronald Eugene Van Dunk, the third of seven children, was born on April 2, 1932, in Hillburn. His father gave him the name Red Bone on a hunting expedition when he was 12.

      "My dad told me that natives have a red haze around their bones," he explained in an interview with The New York Times in 1995.

      He said his early memories included watching his uncle, a pork butcher, sprinkling tobacco at the corner of a pig's enclosure before killing it, and listening to elders talk of the sweat lodge or the days when they made bread from acorns.

      He served two years in the Army as a military police officer in Germany. He worked for the Ford Motor Company plant and then for the Short Line Bus Company, both in Mahwah.

      After being elected chief in the early 1980's, Mr. Van Dunk devoted himself to tribal affairs. Wearing traditional garb, he would speak with children, telling them what the back meat of a raccoon tastes like (ham) and how to do the Ramapough handshake (the hand grabs the wrist).

      In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Josi Wright of Sloatsburg, N.Y., and Kathy Van Dunk of Hillburn; a son, Jody, of Hillburn; three brothers, Percy of Hillburn, James of Ceres, Calif., and Perry of Spring Valley, N.Y.; a sister, Emma Dickerson of Spring Valley; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

      Mr. Van Dunk was sometimes bitter about his struggle, calling Mr. Trump disrespectful for saying the Ramapough protesters "sure as hell don't look like Indians to me," when they rallied in front of the Trump Tower in Manhattan in 1995.

      "Maybe we don't look like we came off a nickel like some people want us to be," he said in a 1993 interview with The Times. "But we've kept the same names from history on down, even if we're part of the melting pot."

      Mr. Van Dunk himself, with his high cheekbones and silver hair, looked as if he had he walked off the set of a Western movie.

      He also maintained a lively sense of humor. "People call me up and want to know how we live," the chief said in The Times. "I tell them, `Well, I just got back from bowling, I'm eating a hamburger I picked up at Burger King and I'm about to watch a video I got at the tape store.' "

      Ann Popplestone

      CCC TLC

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