by Claude Solnik
Published: June 16, 2010 from LIBN.com
The federal government’s recognition of the Shinnecock Indian Nation could breathe new life into a lawsuit the tribe has filed, seeking to reclaim thousands of acres in Southampton.
The tribe has a pending suit in federal court claiming it is entitled to 3,600 acres, including the Shinnecock Hills golf course, where the U.S. Open golf tournament has been played, and The Southampton campus of Stony Brook University.
The suit in U.S. District Court in Central Islip names the Town of Southampton and the state of New York, arguing no state, town or individual can take land from an Indian tribe.
“New York State blatantly ignored that law and approved the transfer of this land in 1850 to a rail road barren,” said Shinnecock Senior Trustee Lance Gumbs. “We have protested that ever since.”
He said the federal determination could be a factor in the lawsuit by the tribe, arguing its rights were violated.
“I think it will eventually,” Gumbs said of the possible impact of the decision on the suit. “There could be settlements.”
The lawsuit argues that the land was sold without the proper authority or approval of the tribe.
In 1792, the state of New York re-organized the tribe as a trusteeship, providing for annual elections of three Indian trustees, elections that have taken place to the present day.
The trustees allocated the tribe’s land and resources for almost 220 years, according to the Department of the Interior.
But that shift away from decisions by a consensus of adult male members may have made it easier to acquire land.
It’s too early to tell whether federal recognition will prove a major factor in the lawsuit for the tribe, which has long been recognized by the state.
The Department of the Interior recognized the tribe on Tuesday, saying the Shinnecock met all acknowledgment criteria “by demonstrating that it has evolved from this historical Shinnecock Indian tribe of New York and has continuously existed.”
The agency said external observers have identified the Shinnecock as “an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900.”
It also found the group comprised a distinct community since historical times and has maintained political influence over its members as an autonomous entity.
The Shinnecock also were able to provide a copy of their governing document including its membership criteria and show that their members descend from a historical Indian tribe.
The agency determined that at least 97 percent of the 1,292 members descend from the 1789 Shinnecock tribe.