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NJ Facing Lawsuit From Native American Tribe

BRIDGETON, N.J. (CBS) -- Lenape Indian Chief Mark Gould says finally the light of justice is peaking through the clouds of bias.

For the last few years the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation has been fighting New Jersey's Attorney General's Office for allegedly stripping them of state recognition the tribe gained in 1982.

Gould says the state's denial has cost his people numerous federal grants, college scholarships and devalued their art.

"We were moving forward and we helped quite a few people, then all of a sudden because of the issue of casino they turned against us," says Gould. The Lenape are suing the state, saying officials took away tribal recognition because of the racist notion Native Americans want to build casinos.

Thursday a federal judge said the case has merit.

In a 42-page decision U-S District Court Judge Renee Marie Bumb denied the State's motion to dismiss the discrimination lawsuit saying:

"Simply put, as alleged by Plaintiff, one day they were a state-recognized tribe (and had been for decades), and the next day, with the swipe of pen and an absence of due process, they were not."

"You take my state recognition away- you humbled people who shouldn't be humbled anymore, they've paid their dues, they worked hard to be where they're at," says Gould.

For their part the Attorney General's Office says they are reviewing Judge Bumb's decision.

In a successful motion to have a nearly identical case dismissed in the state court system the AG's Office didn't give a reason for no-longer recognizing the tribe other than saying it don't have to do it.

Attorney Greg Werkheiser from Cultural Heritage Partners who represents the Tribe says a federal trial could begin within the next 2 months and they are appealing the state case.

"Judge Bumb's decision today reminds us that in our American system, the courts can still ensure a level playing field for the politically powerless against the whims of even the most politically powerful," said Greg Werkheiser said in a release Thursday.

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