Shinnecock Man Needs Help To Save Grandmother's Family Home

Lisa Finn

SOUTHAMPTON, NY — An artist who grew up on the Shinnecock Reservation needs help to renovate his grandmother's home — and transform the house into a creative space for artists.

A GoFundMe page, "Ma’s House Restoration & Shinnecock BIPOC Artist Studio," was created by Jeremy Dennis, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation who was raised on the reservation.

"My grandmother, Loretta Silva, also known as 'Princess Silva Arrow of the Shinnecock Indian Nation', was affectionately called 'Ma' by her children and grandchildren," he wrote. "She passed away in 1998 when I was eight years old. We still call the home where we lived with her 'Ma’s House', and it was always filled with so much love and warmth, welcoming all who came to visit and spend time with our family."

His mother told him that when she was young, Ma held "mini-powwows" with the whole family and other tribe members dancing and singing in "our traditional regalia at the house," Dennis said. "People from everywhere, even foreign countries, would visit the house and also partake in viewing Native craftwork, handmade beadwork, and enjoy pony rides and archery, as well as eat traditional Indian corn, cooked in the earth layered under seaweed. "

Today, Dennis hopes to restore the home that holds such deep meaning.

But, he said, to restore "Ma's House" and the Silva family home is a huge financial and physical undertaking.

"With very limited resources my grandfather, Peter Silva, Sr., traditional Chief of the Hassanamisco Band of Indians of Grafton, MA, scraped together what he could to build this unique house for Ma and their six children about 65 years ago," he said.

His mother found a picture of her father salvaging the wood and windows for the house from a clergy house that was due to be demolished, indicating that the materials used for the home may well be over 100 years old, Dennis said.

"My direct family, as well as my aunts, uncles, and cousins have lived at 'Ma’s House' and sustained it until recent years with its leaky plumbing, dry rot and mold areas, unfinished basement, and outdated furnace," he said.

Ma, Dennis said, had always wanted her house to be an educational museum space, a safe haven for all, and a place where arts and culture could bring people together.

"As Ma’s youngest grandchild, I’m determined to uphold my grandmother’s wishes," Dennis said. "All of the health disparities and economic injustice within minority communities that have become clear during the COVID-19 pandemic — and rise of social justice activism against police brutality, bigotry, and systemic racism — show, to me, a deep urgency for artists who identify as Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color, or BIPOC, to have safe spaces for free creativity and healing."

Artist Jeremy Dennis has plans for the home his grandmother cherished. / Courtesy Jeremy Dennis.

Dennis believes that “Ma’s House” can provide a space for BIPOC artists and all people who support and "uphold moral values for equality, equity, diversity, and inclusion."

However, he said, he has already exhausted most of his own funds, cleaning out the house and debris around the allotment.

"I have a modest income that has been severely impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’m unable to apply for a mortgage living on an Indian reservation, nor can I afford the upfront down payments on utilities," he said. "I humbly ask for donations for the bare minimum to make sure I can restore my old family home on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation to live in, work in, and create an arts and body movement community in. Can you help?"

Any donations will help Dennis to achieve his vision of providing a dedicated space for BIPOC artists — a photo studio, a place for body healing, and a welcoming space for friends and family, he said.

"This will not only be a livable home but also a place of community," Dennis said.

“Ma’s House," he added, will host community education programs for Shinnecock youth, the Shinnecock tribal community, and others interested in the Shinnecock Indian Nation's history and photography.

A photo printer will be onsite for all to use, he said.

In addition, he said, “Ma’s House” will have rooms for an art studio, office, and dance space inside and/or outdoors where BIPOC artists and those that support them will have a safe environment to work and share their creative process with the public.

"In my life, I have never had a personal artist's studio to share my work and invite art supporters to view my work," Dennis said. "This would be a great opportunity to improve my potential as an artist and share this artist studio space with other BIPOC artists to do the same."

Also, Dennis said, since Ma always wanted the house to be shared among the family and become a museum, “Ma’s House” will feature a commemorative wall space to display family history and the history of the Shinnecock Nation.

Dennis also listed a number of tiered incentives depending on the amount of the donation.

So far, Dennis said, quotes he has received regarding how much it will cost to modernize and restore the house have been around $50,000. Of that, $32,700 will be used to completely restore the plumbing, oil heating, and furnace; $3,700 will go toward pouring a concrete floor in the basement, which otherwise freely lets moisture and mold thrive; and the remaining $13,400 will go toward the basics of having a working kitchen, cabinets, furniture, lumber, heat-efficient windows, and other finishings such as sealing the floors and walls, he said.

So far, Dennis said he has done work in the yard and in the basement to ready the space for the cement pour; he has removed the molded and rusted appliances, and is working on removing drywall to reveal any bad wiring and insulation.

"With my family and some very handy Shinnecock tribe member volunteers, we are trying to do most of the work we are able to do without paying professionals, which is why the largest expenses will be for the heating system and plumbing," Dennis said. "I am currently saving every penny in an effort to raise even more for this great opportunity to save 'Ma’s House' and have a welcoming place for everyone to one day visit and enjoy."

Dennis' cousin Tela Troge added: "Please help my cousin Jeremy restore our childhood home! Every little bit helps. Living on an Indian territory, we can't get mortgages and Jeremy is an artist with very limited income, especially with COVID-19. He needs to raise money to make the home livable and to create an artist's studio, which was our grandmother's wishes. It would also mean the world to me to see the home I grew up in saved."

She added: "I grew up in the house — and if any home was a house of love that was it."

To donate, click here.

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This article originally appeared on the Southampton Patch