After 32 years of bureaucratic battles, the Shinnecock Indian Nation has finally received federal recognition as the 565th Tribe to hold a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States government. The Shinnecock Nation is based in Long Island, New York and has approximately 1300 enrolled members and 1200 acres of Tribal land.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs acknowledged the Shinnecock Indian Nation in a Final Determination in June of this year. During the 30-day comment period following the decision, a group called the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs and a faction of the Montauk Indians of Long Island filed late challenges, asking the Interior Board of Indian Appeals to reconsider the decision. On October 1,2010 the Board rejected the appeals, ruling that neither group had legal standing.
“This closes a chapter in the tribe’s 32 year long struggle to obtain recognition and opens a door to a bright future that will include new opportunities,” said Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Board of Trustees. “We’re finally here,” said Lance Gumbs, Shinnecock senior trustee and vice president of the National Congress of American Indians northeastern region. “It’s been 32-and-a-half years,”
As a federally recognized tribe, the Shinnecock are now eligible for federal funding for housing, health and education – and to open a long-planned casino. Congressman Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., released a statement in support of the Nation. “I am pleased that the Bureau of Indian Affairs swiftly dismissed the baseless challenge filed by opponents to the federal recognition of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. Today, the nation’s long struggle for recognition finally comes to an end, and a new chapter opens in their long and proud history. I look forward to helping the Shinnecock access the housing, educational and other important federal benefits they are entitled to under law. I will also continue my collaboration with tribal leaders to improve the standard of living on the Shinnecock Reservation and encourage responsible, sustainable economic development which benefits the tribe and our entire community,” Bishop said.
Federal recognition will offer new opportunities for the Nation, but Shinnecock citizen Beverly Jensen maintains that the new status is not needed strengthen the Nation’s sense of identity or enhance its culture, which its people have worked hard to preserve for centuries. “It’s not something we can forget; it’s ingrained. We’re not going to run and find our culture now that we’re recognized. It’s what we do. It’s why we’re here. We’re here to preserve it,” Jensen said.