Leader of Unkechaug Indians challenged on 'blood right'

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A member of the Unkechaug Indians in Mastic said Friday that he has asked a Suffolk judge to stop the chief from conducting business and is challenging the chief's genealogical right to be part of the tribe.

John Maynes, 37, of East Patchogue, filed an order to show cause earlier this month in state Supreme Court in Riverhead, asking for a temporary restraining order to bar Unkechaug chief Harry Wallace from conducting tribal business.

Maynes said he has been challenging Wallace's "blood right" for 16 years and doesn't believe him to have ancestry that can be traced to American Indian descendants of Shinnecock Indians.

"He's claiming to be our first cousin," Maynes said. "None of my family knows him."

Those in the Maynes family are descendants of Queen Martha Hill, he said.

Hill, who Maynes said served as queen from 1865 to 1933, was central to the tribe's history, Wallace and Maynes agree. "Martha Hill was a very prominent, spiritual lady," Wallace said Friday.

While Wallace doesn't dispute Maynes' genealogy, he brushed off the accusations as a joke.

"John Maynes' case is a pathetic attempt to slander me personally because of my leadership role protecting the rights of the Unkechaug Nation," said Wallace, who was elected chief in 1994. "I have absolutely no doubt that this attempt to smear me will fail. Other attempts to smear me in the past have failed."

Wallace cited a recent federal case against the tribe by the Gristedes food store chain, where Wallace and the Unkechaugs were accused of "unfair competition" in selling tax-free cigarettes. A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled in favor of the Unkechaugs on Oct. 8.

Wallace said he could not comment on Maynes' blood right, but said his own genealogical ties to the tribe are "quite extensive" and span nine generations.

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"The whole case is meaningless," Wallace said. "He feels he's been mistreated. I don't know why he's angry."

Maynes said he plans to pursue his case against Wallace on his own because he was unable to find a lawyer willing to go against the tribal council.

"My family wants the Indian reservation put back together where it was," Maynes said. "Right now it looks like Las Vegas, with buildings on top of buildings and smoke shops on top of smoke shops."

The case's next court date is scheduled for Oct. 28.

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