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Jul 11, 2012 9:39 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shootings Spur Talks Between Tribe And Trustees

Jul 11, 2012 10:55 AM

A bayman from Hampton Bays said he and another commercial fisherman were shot at with a rifle last Tuesday evening, July 3, by members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation while harvesting shellfish in Shinnecock Bay near the reservation.

It was the second incident of clashes between baymen and tribe members in recent weeks. The Southampton Town Trustees and tribal leaders were scheduled to meet on Wednesday afternoon, July 11, to discuss what rights the tribe and non-tribal baymen have in regard to sections of bay bottoms surrounding the Shinnecock Neck reservation just outside Southampton Village

The bayman who reported the shots fired, Scott Burgess, said that he and another bayman, Dean Columbo, were digging clams from the bay bottom about 500 yards offshore of the reservation on July 3 when several people appeared on the shoreline and began yelling, apparently at them. The baymen could not make out what they were saying. A few minutes later, Mr. Burgess said, they heard the report of a rifle and the sound of bullets whizzing past.

“We were shot at four times,” he said. “You could hear the bullets—one went right by my buddy’s ear.”

The incident comes less than a month after another bayman reported to the Southampton Town Trustees that he was threatened with being shot by a member of the tribe if he didn’t stop digging shellfish close to the reservation. Members of the Town Trustees who work as baymen themselves told of having been shot at on numerous occasions over the years, though no incidents have ever been reported to have resulted in injury to a bayman.

Mr. Burgess said that he and Mr. Columbo retreated offshore of the reservation and called New York State Police, who came to the shoreline of the reservation, where a crowd of tribe members, including members of the Tribal Council and Tribal Trustees, had gathered. Once State Police arrived, Mr. Burgess and Mr. Columbo came ashore on the reservation and met with the tribal contingent gathered there.

A spokesman for the State Police confirmed this week that their officers responded to the scene of a disagreement on the reservation, but said no evidence was found of gunshots being fired.

Tribe leaders said that no shots were fired by members of the tribe that day—but they were adamant that the tribe would assert its right to block non-tribe members from harvesting shellfish close to the reservation’s shoreline.

“Nobody was shot at—that’s a bunch of bull. They had firecrackers,” said Shinnecock Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs, who said he was present at the time. “The reality is that we have clammed and used these waters for sustenance for over 10,000 years, and … we made it clear to those fishermen that they are not about to come and rob our shorelines because they polluted theirs.”

Mr. Gumbs said that the tribe will insist that baymen stay at least 1,000 feet offshore of the reservation.

Mr. Burgess said that he and Mr. Columbo agreed to limit their harvesting to at least 1,000 feet offshore of the reservation. “I’m just trying to make a few extra dollars,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to worry about getting a bullet in my neck.”

Other baymen apparently did not agree to the setback, as Mr. Gumbs said this week that there was at least one other incident where a bayman was working in what tribe members deemed as being too close to the reservation and was confronted by a Shinnecock contingent. He said he was not present for that incident.

The limit, if other baymen were to agree to it, would be a comparatively small section of bottom along the broad flats on the Shinnecock Bay shoreline of the reservation. But a 1,000-foot setback would render a large portion of Heady Creek, which runs along the reservation’s entire eastern shoreline, off 
limits to anyone but tribe members.

Town Trustees President Eric Shultz said his board, which owns and regulates all of the town’s bay bottoms in the name of Southampton residents, is willing to hear the tribe’s objections to shellfishing close to its shores. Mr. Shultz backed off a statement he made last month that the tribe does not hold any official claim to bay bottoms and has, in fact, been using town-owned bay bottoms to anchor oyster racks without Trustees’ permission. He said that with the tribe’s new federally recognized status, granted in 2010, he doesn’t know if they have any sort of new claim to underwater lands near the federal reservation.

“We don’t know exactly what their status is,” he said. “We’re going to get together and discuss who owns what, and we’ll figure out how we can all work together. We can’t have people shooting at each other over a few clams.”

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Here's the realpolitik:

"We" the white people, stole everything from the Native Americans and we are not giving it back. (Because "killing people and stealing their stuff" defines the salient behavior of homo sapiens?)

The Shinnecocks MAY have ownership of the bay bottom to the point of the old pre-inlet waterline but that boundary is undefined.

The state has yet to approve any Shinnecock casinos.

We don't like being shot at.

It ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 11, 12 12:48 PM
It is not the pre-inlet waterline, but the pre canal waterline. The records of NYS Salt Water Bays Commission state that the water level of Shinnecock Bay was raised one foot in 1918 by the bulkheading and tidegate installation in the Shinnecock Canal. As I'm sure you know the Hurricane of '38 was 20 years later than this recorded water level rise. Just the facts, incontrovertible verifiable facts, the finest kind;-)
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jul 12, 12 1:18 AM
Since when do "undefined" boundaries get "defined" by gunshots? The offenders need to be caught, identified and prosecuted for attempted murder. Anything less is a miscarriage of justice and will not help the Shinnecock's image or their future visions of running a casino.
By SisBoomBonacker (106), Hamptons on Jul 11, 12 2:50 PM
6 members liked this comment
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 11, 12 8:35 PM