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Apr 1, 2008 3:13 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Shinnecocks Claim Federal Recognition

Apr 1, 2008 3:13 PM

The Shinnecock Indian Nation noted this week that a deadline had passed, and Southampton Town had decided not to challenge a state court ruling granting the Nation federal recognition—interpreting the move as confirmation of the long-sought status.

However, town officials have said that the ruling does not mean the Nation is federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Despite U.S. District Justice Thomas C. Platt's opinion and the Nation's claims, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has not honored the court ruling and is far from federally recognizing the Shinnecock tribe; that application process can take a decade or more.

In a statement released this week, the Shinnecock Nation's Board of Trustees assert that the November 2005 opinion by Justice Platt determining the Nation to be a tribe became concrete because neither the State of New York nor the Town of Southampton intends to appeal.

If recognized, the Nation could open a gaming facility, which would bring in massive new revenue, and would be eligible for numerous grants and assistance to pay for tribal programs, including law enforcement and education.

"The town did not appeal the decision, since we won the Westwoods case," Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot explained on Tuesday evening. "The Shinnecocks are making an assertion that's not true," she added, maintaining that the tribe still is recognized by the state but not the federal government, and only federally recognized tribes can engage in gaming.

Along with federal recognition, the Shinnecock tribe has been seeking permission to build a faming facility on tribe-owned land in the Westoods area of Hampton Bays. They were denied the right to use the land but have signed a notice of appeal.

"We made a decision not to appeal," Town Board member Anna Throne-Holst said on Tuesday. She explained that town officials do not believe an appeal to be valid. While that determination might put the Nation closer to federal recognition, and thus a gaming facility, Ms. Throne-Holst said the two issues are separate and must be treated as such. "Unfortunately, they are intertwined," she said.

Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock Board of Trustees, said on Tuesday that he believes Southampton Town's inaction is quiet agreement that the Nation's "cycle of poverty and inequity must end." Mr. King said his board has discussed the Nation's issues with Ms. Kabot and explained to her that an appeal would only add to its problems. He said he is looking forward to an open dialogue with the town about the tribe's wishes.

The determination has little bearing without acceptance from the BIA, and Ms. Throne-Holst said the town is aware of that fact. "In terms of gaming rights, it's moot," she acknowledged, noting that Justice Platt's decision only expresses recognition from the state's perspective, not the BIA.

Although his decision was made in 2005, Justice Platt's injunction order was signed only last month and the time to appeal ended last week.

"It ain't over til it's over," Mr. King said. He criticized the BIA for lacking the staff and resources to do its work in a timely fashion. "They can only go over a few tribes each year," he said. "It's an unfair process."

Nedra Darling, director of the BIA, said on Tuesday that the Nation has been petitioning for recognition and working to meet a list of necessary criteria, but there are more than 10 groups ahead on the list, and the Shinnecocks are several steps away from "active" application status. The initial letter of intent to be recognized was sent on February 8, 1978, and the Nation sent new information to the BIA as recently as January 2007.

Mr. Darling described a long and arduous process that can take years, even if all the criteria is met, and he noted that his department has only three teams of three people each for the entire country. Mr. Darling would not comment on the significance of Justice Platt's decision.

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