Shinnecocks surrounded by family, nature

Shinnecock Elder Marguerite A. Smith, second from left Shinnecock Elder Marguerite A. Smith, second from left in back row, with her family: back row from left, Weyhan Smith, Everett Hunter and Erica Chase; middle row from left, Cholena Smith, Josephine Smith and Aiyana Smith-Williams; front row from left, Nashota Williams, Nuhkon Shendo-Smith, Weguai Shendo-Smith and Nootimus Williams. (Aug. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Anthony Barboza

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Street signs abound on Long Island, but they're not required on the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton.

The people who live there — about half of the 1,400-member Shinnecock Tribe — all know where they are going, and what is around every corner of the 800-acre reservation.

The private streets go past modest homes and lead to open fields and the small community cultural center and meeting hall. One small street goes to the shellfish hatchery, previously closed because of pollution in Shinnecock Bay. Another leads to the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church, the oldest continually operating American Indian church in the country.

Since the late 1600s, it has been a place of spiritual comfort for the tribe. The Shinnecock powwow — banned as devil worship by an early Colonial governor long before the Revolutionary War — has been raising funds to support church programs for the past 66 years.

Roberta Hunter said living on the reservation means being surrounded by family and nature.

"A special place is at the water, both being at Shinnecock Bay and at the Little Peconic," she said. "Memories of family gatherings, clamming, crabbing, fishing, open fires, swimming in these warm waters, meditating at the shoreline . . ."

Once, the Shinnecock fished, hunted and moved across the entire South Fork. After colonists arrived in 1640, the reservation was about the size of modern-day Southampton Town. But in 1703, in a questionable land deal, the reservation was reduced to its current size. Still, the Shinnecock are grateful for what remains.

"I would never want to lose our open spaces, forests, wetlands and security of knowing that we are all related," said Hunter, whose 95-year-old father still lives on the reservation, where he was born and raised. "There are no strangers here."

You also may be interested in: