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In Quinton Township, New Jersey, a Native American stewardship apprenticeship program — one of the first in the nation — is slowly taking shape.
Tyrese Gould Jacinto, president and CEO of the Native American Advancement Corporation, has spent several months preparing the Cohanzick Longhouse Sanctuary for a public opening.
The sanctuary is located in a former church building and aspires to offer in the physical space spiritual practices listed on the website.
“Of course, we’ve been doing that for many years now, but just without a physical building,” Jacinto said.
But township officials have yet to approve the continued use of the property as a place of worship.
The Cohanzick Nature Reserve is 63 acres of forrested land in Salem County, criss-crossed with sandy trails and adjacent to other parcels of protected land. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
The sanctuary property was once a Christian church property
Jacinto reclaimed her family’s ancestral land in 2023 with financial support from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and the state’s Green Acres program. The property includes a church building which was built in 2011, after the original edifice burned down.
The continued use of the property as a religious site should be similar to when the property changed hands between two Christian churches in the last couple of decades, according to Jacinto.
The Native American Advancement Corp. acquired a church in Bridgeton, N.J., which now serves as a cultural center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
But township officials said Jacinto’s group should apply for a conditional use permit. That forces the sanctuary to start at the beginning of the zoning process, according to Heather Kumer, an attorney with Watershed Legal Group who’s representing the sanctuary.
“It means that we would have to get everything from scratch approved again, like the building was never built,” she explained, adding that the sanctuary would have to submit land surveys and site plans. “It costs a lot of time and money to get that in order.”