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Jun 26, 2012 12:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shinnecocks Travel By Canoe, Visit Sister Tribes In Connecticut

Jun 27, 2012 12:19 PM

While gliding toward the bank of Connecticut’s Stoddard Hill State Park in a six-man canoe on Saturday, 24-year-old Chenae Bullock watched a bald eagle fly gracefully toward her boat and then circle above her destination.

Inspired, Ms. Bullock, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, began singing a “paddle song” with her fellow rowers. The wind picked up dramatically, she said, and helped push her crew to shore.

As part of her effort to start an intertribal Mishoon (Canoe) Society, Ms. Bullock and members of her tribe, as well as members of sister tribes, canoed nearly 60 miles over three days last weekend, leaving Friday afternoon from Westwoods, tribal owned property in Hampton Bays, and rowing to Conscience Point, then to Orient Point, where they camped for the night. The next morning, they resumed their canoe trip until reaching the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Indian territories along the Thames River in Connecticut.

“It felt so uplifting as we were getting closer and closer to the shoreline and started to see the people,” Ms. Bullock said of reaching their first destination in Connecticut on Saturday. “To be 24, I never thought it would be myself who would do something like this.”

Last year, Ms. Bullock took part in the annual Tribal Canoe Journey that featured West Coast tribes traveling at least 70 miles north from Seattle, Washington, to the Swinomish Reservation. This summer, tribes participating in the annual West Coast voyage, including the Shinnecock, Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot, will canoe to Squaxin Island in Washington—the home of this year’s host tribe, the Squaxin Island Tribe.

On Saturday, members of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Indian tribes were dressed in traditional regalia while they awaited the rowers’ arrival. Some Shinnecock tribe members also were waiting on the shore as a show of support and to partake in the intertribal festivities that took place once the rowers stepped foot on the beach.

Following tradition that dates back hundreds of years, Ms. Bullock’s team guided their boat in a full circle, sang a song about “moving forward” and asked permission to go ashore. Once granted permission from tribal leaders, the tribes could then merge and exchange gifts and fellowship.

Among the many gifts the Shinnecocks bestowed on their sister tribes were turkey feathers, wampum (sacred shell beads) and blankets meant to wrap recipients in comfort and love, according to Ms. Bullock.

“Our goal is to bring back our traditional ways of gathering and sharing our teachings,” she said. “If we come together and revitalize what our ancestors practiced, we will be able to heal many hardships that are destroying our people.”

The Shinnecock people, as well as other Northeast coastal tribes, had a long tradition of canoeing. According to Ms. Bullock, the tribe had not participated in a journey of this kind in nearly 400 years.

“We are people of the water,” [also known as the people of the stony shore] she said. “We are canoe people. The canoe was at one point our life, our family.”

Shinnecock Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs said on Friday that canoeing across the Long Island Sound is evocative of the Shinnecocks’ past. “We’re all Algonquian people, and this was a tradition where, for a long time, it hasn’t happened,” he said. “It’s good to see this revitalization of some of our very important, historic past.”

Historically, the Algonquian tribes of New England and New York often relied on one another, especially in troubled times. Some villages would often move to where food was in great supply and sometimes break into smaller units or recombine. This cross-tribal mobility and sharing of culture is a tradition of the past, Ms. Bullock said.

“Our elders may feel scared,” she said. “They came from a time where to be proud and Native was not allowed, so they protected us by not wearing a medicine pouch, or wearing their hair braided, singing songs or speaking our language. Our generation is bringing that back.”

Wanting to lessen the division between the tribes, she invited the members of several to canoe with her last weekend. Participants included members of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and the Mohegans, both from Connecticut, the Narragansett and Niantic tribes, both from Rhode Island, and even the Quileute Nation from La Push, Washington.

Ms. Bullock said it was a life-changing experience to canoe with an intergenerational and intertribal crew. “We canoed through the reef in Connecticut, over to New London—that was definitely a moment where we all had to come together,” she said. “We had to find some way to come together and respect each other and listen. That’s what got us through the reef—we became a canoe family.”

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I hope they all have PFD's
By Jaws (245), Westhampton Beach on Jun 29, 12 1:53 PM
I heard on the grapevine that you all boarded the ferry at Orient Point heading for Connecticut,I was delighted to read this was not the case...peace and good vibes to you all.
By Etians rd (543), Southampton on Jun 29, 12 5:04 PM