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Jul 27, 2010 3:57 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Challenges may not cause much delay

Jul 27, 2010 3:57 PM

It was supposed to be a time for celebration.

The Shinnecock Indian Nation was slated to receive final determination of federal recognition as a Native American nation last Monday, July 19, making it the 565th tribe to earn sovereignty. Instead, the Shinnecocks found themselves, two days later, fighting the same battle for recognition that has gripped the nation for more than three decades.

Two objections have surfaced challenging the tribe’s long sought after federal recognition, the main challenge being waged by a Connecticut group vested in that state’s gaming interests.

On Wednesday, July 21, an outpouring of Shinnecock Indian Nation members, many dressed in Native American regalia, united at the U.S. District Court in Central Islip at what was supposed to be a federal recognition status update meeting. Together, they sent one uniform message: They’re not backing down.

“The message is that we have proven our case,” said Doreen Pepe, a Shinnecock member, “that we are entitled to the federal benefits being a federally recognized nation ... and that we have more than proven we are a proud, traditional people of Native American history.”

The Shinnecocks breathed a sigh of relief later when U.S. District Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco ruled that the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA), the agency charged with reviewing the appeals and challenges to the Shinnecocks’ federal recognition, is required to abide by hard and fast deadlines in reviewing the objections. The Department of the Interior, the umbrella agency for the IBIA, has until July 30 to report back to the court with a commitment to review the objections, he said. If the agency fails to do that, Judge Bianco said he could find that the tribe’s case has suffered an “unreasonable delay,” and he would impose a schedule he has drawn up—which would result in a final decision on the objections by September 24.

Judge Bianco’s ruling relieved some Shinnecock leaders, who had fears that the two objections, which surfaced on July 15 and July 19, would indefinitely delay the nation’s federal recognition—a process that has already been riddled with unnecessary and unreasonable delay, they argued, since 1978.

“It’s an absurd situation that the federal government allows to happen,” said Shinnecock Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs, before entering the courtroom on Wednesday.

There are two objections to the nation’s federal recognition. The main challenger is a Connecticut group that calls itself the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs and claims to represent 18,000 casino employees in that state. According to court officials at the meeting on Wednesday, the main objection outlined by the group is the tribe’s business relationship with Gateway Casino Resorts, the Detroit casino developer that has spent millions funding the tribe’s legal battles in return for a cut of future casino profits. The coalition says that relationship compromises the tribe’s independence.

Mr. Gumbs said those allegations are “a joke” and said he does not expect that they will hold water in court. “They’re frivolous, without substance and have no merit,” he said.

He also noted that Gateway Casino Resorts did not enter the picture until after the nation’s federal recognition application was finalized. Gateway began work with the Shinnecocks in 2004, while in 2003 the nation’s federal application was on a list for approval.

“Clearly, one of the facts that they’re missing because they didn’t do the research was the fact that our petition was actually done in 2003 and put on the active and ready for consideration list,” he said.

Kevin Mulry of the U.S. Attorney’s office represented the Department of the Interior at last week’s court proceeding. He argued that the IBIA is an independent board, and that Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar might not have the authority to impose deadlines on them.

But Judge Bianco noted that the main objection by the Connecticut gaming group—the questions of the tribe’s independence surrounding its relationship with Gateway—is “hardly news” and should be able to be swiftly addressed by the department. “That’s certainly not something you’d think the Department of the Interior would have a hard time addressing,” he said.

The second challenge involves a request by members of the Montaukett Tribe, a splinter group of the Montauk Indian Nation, who want to be included in the Shinnecock application. But according to a statement on the Montauk Indian Nation website, that challenge was submitted without consulting the nation’s chief, Robert P. Pharaoh.

“Chief Robert P. Pharaoh of the Montauk Indian Nation stated that this appeal is ‘ill-advised, destined to fail, and guaranteed to make enemies of the Shinnecock,’” according to the statement. “He voiced his opinion directly at a recent Shinnecock Tribal Council session, where he pledged to support their efforts to finally earn their rightful place in history. He has also submitted his commentary in writing to the Office of Federal Acknowledgement (OFA).”

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Shinnecock College.

Institute for Earth Sustainability and Marine Sciences.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 26, 10 5:54 PM
Broken record?
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on Jul 27, 10 10:00 PM
Measure twice, cut once.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 5, 10 6:51 PM
what does that mean?
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Aug 6, 10 5:44 AM
Can someone tell me how many Shinnecocks are actually on the reservation? I mean pure if not first/second generation indians?????
By longislander40 (37), hampton bays on Aug 6, 10 11:23 AM