Interview: Shinnecock Nation and federal recognition

"Last Wednesday, officials from the Shinnecock Indian Nation and Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot sat down with members of the Office of Federal Acknowledgement for preliminary proceedings regarding the Nation’s application for federal recognition. For nearly three decades, the Shinnecock Nation has lobbied the federal government for official recognition, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected to reach a preliminary verdict on their application by December. Shinnecock trustees Gordell Wright and Frederick Bess discussed the case, the tribe’s history and what this verdict means to the Shinnecock people.

How long have the Shinnecock people lived on the East End?
G: Basically, we have been here for 10,000 years or more. This gives you a time span of how far back our people go.
F: Archaeologists have used carbon dating of pottery and other Indian artifacts dug up in Southampton to show how old our tribe is. The Old Fort Site dates back almost a thousand years. Sugar Loaf Hill is just as ancient. There is a well-documented ancient Shinnecock village on or near Bullhead Bay as well. The history of our tribe is very well documented.

How large is the land owned and controlled by the Shinnecock Nation?
G: At present, we have title to approximately 1,000 acres of land, in two parcels.
F: We have 80 acres in Hampton Bays and more than 800 acres south of Hill Street, but our aboriginal land stretched at least from what is now the Brookhaven Town line to what is now the East Hampton Town line – essentially, we had aboriginal title to the entire area of what is now the Town of Southampton. As the years passed, our land holdings became smaller and smaller, through theft and misappropriation by English settlers.

How does it feel to be a part of a group of people who can trace their roots back thousands of years, in a time when many have very little knowledge of their ancestry?
G: To be part of such a group … such a people … It is a hard feeling to put into words. Our culture is so tied to the land and the land is us. There is a strong sense of pride and cultural identity among our people, which helps us carry on the tradition. It can bring you to tears sometimes.
F: We are the caretakers of this land. We were here before the English settlers. But it can be hard to hold onto our land and our traditions when we are smack dab in Main Street America."

Get the Story:
Shinnecock Trustees Gordell Wright and Frederick Bess (The Sag Harbor Express 6/11)

Recent Court Decision:
Shinnecock Nation v. Kempthorne (September 30, 2008)

Related Stories:
Economist: Recognition nears for Shinnecock Nation (6/11)
Connecticut tribes support Shinnecock recognition (6/5)
Shinnecock Nation meets with BIA over recognition (6/4)
Shinnecock Nation in DC to press for recognition (6/3)
Editorial: Shinnecock Nation recognition on horizon (6/1)
Blog: Shinnecock Nation eyes ultimate prize (6/1)
Shinnecock Nation open to several casino sites (5/29)
Column: Shinnecock Nation nears a milestone (5/28)
Shinnecock Nation ready to negotiate with state (5/28)
BIA agrees to decision on Shinnecock Nation (5/27)
Shinnecock Nation expects recognition decision (4/6)