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6/15/2005 09:42:00 AM | Niral Shah

The Natives are going to Raid P. Diddy's Mansion

In a few hours, the Shinnecock tribe of eastern Long Island is going to introduce a lawsuit in state court in Islip. Basically, according to tribal trustee James Eleazer, the suit says they want the Hamptons back. The thing is, they haven't had the Hamptons in a while (even if it is undeniably their historical stomping grounds) and besides, its not exactly unused land. Houses in the Hamptons sell for tens of millions of dollars.

It's a little bit more complex than that though. So lets go into who the Shinnecock are. They've been settled on Long Island for a really long time, roaming most of the Island freely, settling mostly on the East End. They were part of the Metoac group of tribes that probably numbered around 10,000 at the time of settlement, and participated in the Wampum and fur trades, fighting the Delaware, Mahican, and Pequot occasionally, and then the Pequot more intensely, in order to prevent war with the British. As a result of the ensuing wars, most were pushed west of the Hudson river. One group was led by none other than Samson Occom to Wisconsin, a few stayed on Long Island.
The tribe that still exists on Long Island is legitimate. Unlike the Mashantucket Pequot, the "Foxwoods" Tribe, the Shinnecock have always lived on this reservation. The tribe was not recently pieced together, in fact, they have been running on the same tribal governing system established in 1792, the first of its kind. When the Foxwoods tribe was reorganized in the 1980s, from the descendents of one woman who lived on the reservation in the 1960s, it was somewhat suspect. This isn't the case with the Shinnecock. I highly recommend watching this short video.
Not that its really a fair marker of "Indianness," but these aren't people who have 'reclaimed their roots' - their heritage is visibly apparent. Approximately 500 people live on the reservation, 90% of whom self-identified on the most recent Census as Indian, and there is some intermarriage among other races (mostly other tribes, but also black and Hispanic.) But the Shinnecock don't have Federal Recognition, and 66% live under the poverty line. Historically, they've done just about everything to stay afloat. From fishing and whaling, to attempts at industry (like the hatchery shown in that video). But for various reasons, there really not much left, and living conditions on the reservation are appalling. Especially when you consider that within spitting distance of these crumbling shacks are luxurious beachfront estates.


Federal recognition is kind of a sticky wicket. The Ramapo of northern New Jersey will never get it, its a risk to Trump and his Atlantic City Casinos, and he'll always lobby against it. Both the Schaghticokes and the Eastern Pequots of Connecticut, in the face of strong political opposition, had their recognition denied/revoked in the past month. Its really all about gaming nowadays, and recognition never mattered before. This is what they spend millions on, hiring lobbyists and lawyers, sometimes sleazy lobbyists like Jack Abramoff.
That's why the Shinnecock are going to court. The majority of Long Island residents (63%) now approve granting them gaming rights, but they need federal recognition first, and then a state deal. The state's process of granting the Oneida gaming rights in the north has been pretty slow and tortuous already. So, in the wake of recent rulings that have made federal recognition more and more difficult to acquire, but have also shown a growing tendency towards respecting Indian claims (especially note Cobell v. Norton), the Shinnecock have a new strategy. Scare the state, force a settlement, get gaming rights. And part of the Hamptons claim, in proving their right to the land, will satisfy most of the BIA's 7 conditions for recognition. Gaming could be a great thing for the Shinnecock. You cons should love this, its all about screwing dependence on the government (or the lack of support from the government) and becoming self-sufficient. And if you're a strict constructionist, I'm pretty sure this abides by all those sovereign nation rulings made way back when.
Indian gaming has its problems. It helps tribes closer to cities, but not the truly impoverished ones out in the middle of nowhere. It encourages all sorts of fiscal chaos, from overpaying lobbyists and badly apportioning profits, to blocking enrollment of new tribal members to hog dividends, not to mention the moral dilemmas that arise when gambling conflicts with Christian/Traditional beliefs. But, the Shinnecock have tried everything else, and they've got a legitimate claim for recognition. In fact, they've been petitioning for recognition for 29 years, far longer than the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act has been in place, and the tribe is "one of the best documented and organized Native American tribes in the country" and has been for centuries. The Shinnecock founded and pioneered the American whaling industry. The people who live on the reservation are the direct descendants of those who signed pre-Revolution era treaties. This truly could help them quite a bit, and the local economy too. And honestly, if they win back the Hamptons by some fluke, and kick all those bastards out, I'm not really gonna cry about it.



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