Tag: Hamptons

A Vacation Enclave in the Hamptons, Two 61-Foot Billboards, and an Endless Fight for Tribal Sovereignty

In 1859, a group of Southampton investors worked to convince the state to break its lease with the Nation to develop the Shinnecock Hills area and extend the Long Island Railroad, using what tribal members say were forged and faked signatures to legally take the land. This stripped the tribe of its most valuable land, Shinnecock Hills, which was subsequently turned into the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and adjacent mansions.

In 1959, the state moved forward with the construction of Route 27, Sunrise Highway, through the Westwoods, using a highway easement to make the trip to Montauk easier for the region’s wealthy summer vacationers. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was New York cracking down on Shinnecock citizen Jonathan Smith’s smoke shop, upset because he was able to sell cartons of cigarettes on the rez without imposing a state tobacco tax. In the early 2000s, it was the Nimby townsfolk raising hell about a proposed bingo hall, with the state fighting in the courts to nix the Nation’s proposed casino. And now, in 2020, the town and the state, yet again, have taken issue with the Shinnecock Nation’s latest attempt to generate revenue and enforce its sovereignty.

“One reason why they don’t want us to have this is because as soon as you come down Sunrise Highway and you see these two monuments up there, with the Shinnecock symbol, it’s saying to you: You are entering Shinnecock territory, you are not entering the Town of Southampton,” Cuffee-Wilson said. “And they don’t want to struggle with that, because once that gets out there, then they have to start being honest about their town and how it was founded. It’s a gloomy sleep, I know. That is a painful thing. But guess what: Y’all need to get over it.”

State Supreme Court Judge Sanford Neil Berland heard the state’s case in May, writing that the monuments “pose none of the disruptive consequences” and “no unacceptable safety risk,” as claimed by the DOT. While Berland did not entirely dismiss the state’s lawsuit, as the tribe hoped, he concluded, “Ultimately, the burden will be upon the state and town plaintiffs to refute the defendants’ contention that the nation has sovereign control over the Westwoods property. On the current record, it is impossible to conclude that the plaintiffs will succeed in doing so.” A DOT spokesperson declined my request for comment “due to pending litigation,” and Attorney General James’s office twice declined to answer questions about why it is pursuing the case for the DOT, with a spokesperson telling The New Republic, “Our office allows those we’re representing to speak on the record on these matters.”

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