Shinnecock Nation Feeds Needy While Fighting For Economic Parity

Lisa Finn
·6 min read

SOUTHAMPTON, NY — Members of the Shinnecock Nation, participating in "Sovereignty Camp 2020"— a month-long occupation of original aboriginal territory on Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays to shine a light on the need for the tribe's economic advancement — will take time to give back to the needy on Wednesday.

"Sovereignty Camp 2020: Food Drop (The Lawsuit!) takes place Wednesday beginning at noon at the large unbuilt monument sign on Sunrise Highway, where the encampment is set up.

The event is hosted by the Warriors of the Sunrise, the Long Island Progressive Coalition, Cooperation LI, and both Suffolk and Nassau chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America.

"The Warriors of the Sunrise will be providing food this Wednesday before Thanksgiving, also known by Indigenous Peoples as the National Day of Mourning," organizers said. "Despite the hardships endured under economic sabotage, including a current lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, the Shinnecock people persist in the virtues of being a good neighbor."

Whoever needs food is welcome, organizers said. There will be hundreds of pounds of produce and dry goods. Contactless pickup will be available. All necessary COVID-19 safety precautions will be in place.

The fight of the Shinnecocks to be able to attain economic advancement has had many joining their ranks: Members of the Shinnecock Nation had a special guest recently when Roger Waters of Pink Floyd dropped by to show his support.

Waters, Tela Troge of the Shinnecock Nation said, "has been interested in assisting Rebecca Genia in her Shinnecock advocacy work for some time.

Across the highway from Sovereignty Camp: 2020 the first large electronic sign erected by the Shinnecock Nation sparked controversy when initially erected.

Waters, Troge said, "has promised to help the Warriors of the Sunrise in their request that New York State drop its baseless lawsuit against the Shinnecock monument sign."

Waters, who has a home on the South Fork, spoke to members of the Shinnecock Nation during a recent virtual teach-in for Sovereignty Camp held on Zoom.

The Warriors of the Sunrise was formed "in response to the Shinnecock Nation's struggle to provide resources to its tribal members due to hundreds of years of violent settler colonization and land theft . . . We are sick of New York State standing in the way of our economic development. We need to feed our people!" organizers said.

Troge and Matthew Ballard have also organized a GoFundMe, with a goal of raising $25,000 help purchase supplies needed for the month-long stay.

The Warriors of the Sunrise explained why they decided to organize: "The Shinnecock people have always been hospitable to the colonizers and as a result have faced genocide, land theft, loss of language, poisoned water, and an attack on the inherent right to free trade."

Today, the Shinnecock Nation consists of approximately 1,200 members who live across the world, organizers said.

"Members of the Shinnecock Nation come in every color and have long faced discrimination due to having shared Black ancestry. That discrimination led to an illegal and racist policy decision in the 1930s by the United States Government not to hold an Indian Reorganization Act election at Shinnecock," organizers said.

Since the United States failed to hold an election, under the 2009 United States Supreme Court case Carcieri v. Salazar, the Shinnecock Nation is not eligible to obtain trust land because it was not brought in under the IRA — "for the above reasons of racist policy rather than law," organizers maintain. "Because Shinnecock can not obtain trust land, it can not meaningfully engage in economic development."

The land that the Shinnecock Nation does hold is known as West Woods and the Shinnecock Neck. Separating the two territories is the Shinnecock Hills, "which was stolen by the State of New York and the Town of Southampton from the Shinnecock in 1859," organizers said.

According to Troge: "In 1959, the State of New York granted itself a permanent easement over a portion of the land at West Woods for the purposes of constructing Sunrise Highway. This easement was an illegal taking in violation of the Non-Intercourse Act absent any expressed permission of the United States Congress."

In 2019, the Shinnecock Nation announced plans to build two 61-foot monuments to the Shinnecock Nation in the highway easement area on land known to be Indian land. In response, town and state officials blocked efforts, Troge said.

"At that time, the Warriors of the Sunrise formed in order to create a protective circle around the Shinnecock workers to protect them from harassment and deportation," organizers said.

The Warriors of the Sunrise were successful in efforts to construct the first of the two monument signs. Upon completion of the first sign, the State of New York sought a temporary restraining order against the Shinnecock Nation.

The State requested that the judge order the monument to be removed; the Judge denied the request, Troge said.

"Despite this, New York maintains its baseless lawsuit against the Shinnecock Nation in an attempt to strangle the Nation's attempts to engage in economic development in order to meet the basic housing, education, and food needs of its tribal members," organizers of the Sovereignty Camp said. "At a time of global pandemic, while the Shinnecock Nation struggles to ensure their people have food, New York State engages in meritless litigation in an attempt to make the Shinnecock Monument unprofitable due to exuberant legal defense fees. The Shinnecock Nation has the right to engage in economic development in order to meet the basic needs of its people."

And, Warriors of the Sunrise said: "Times are bad at Shinnecock due to the Town of Southampton and the State of New York. The grandmothers have no choice but to take action. We do not have adequate housing, food, education or health care."

The group of has demands. On a state level, they are asking for New York to drop its lawsuit against the Shinnecock Nation over the monument; they would like to meet with Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the camp; they want New York State to recognize the Shinnecock Nation's trade and fishing rights; and they want New York State to pass the unmarked Grave Protection legislation.

Townwide, they want officials to utilize Community Preservation Funds to prioritize purchase of land in the Shinnecock Hills; recognize and respect Shinnecock land boundaries; and meet with members of the Shinnecock Nation to discuss paths to "restitution regarding illegal land sales and transfers."

Both the town and state must recognize the rights of the Sovereign Shinnecock Nation to pursue economic advancement, organizers said.

On a national level, the group wants Shinnecock territory declared "Indian Country"; litigation assistance against New York State for "the theft of Shinnecock Hills in 1859"; and they want the government to assist the Shinnecock Nation in acquiring trust land and to "reconcile racist 1930s policies against Shinnecock people."

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Scheiderman said the town is working to address "substandard housing conditions on the reservation. We are already assisting with addressing food insecurity there. We are also working with Shinnecock leaders on meaningful economic development on the land where the encampment is planned."

Those wishing to donate can go to GoFundMe, PayPal or Venmo to @warriorsofthesunrise.

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This article originally appeared on the Southampton Patch