New bill would restore state recognition of Montaukett tribe

Montauketts in 1924. A 1910 court ruling declared

Montauketts in 1924. A 1910 court ruling declared the tribe extinct. (March 3, 2011) (Credit: Newsday)

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Two Long Island legislators have introduced state legislation that would immediately restore state recognition to the Montaukett Indians, six months after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed a similar bill.

The measure, introduced simultaneously in the Assembly and Senate this month, would grant recognition to the dispersed tribe, which was declared extinct by a widely criticized 1910 state court ruling. Previous versions sought to create a process for granting recognition to the tribe, which has some 1,500 members living around Long Island and the East Coast.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), the Assembly sponsor, said he has requested a meeting with Cuomo to urge support for the bill. Thiele said he expects the bill to pass.

When he vetoed the legislation, Cuomo argued that creating a new state recognition process similar to the federal process would strain state resources. Instead, Cuomo ordered the New York Department of State to review the tribe's recognition claims.

The department said in a statement that: "Issues regarding state recognition are being researched and reviewed by the Office of General Counsel of the N.Y. Department of State. This process is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached at this time."

The Thiele bill, which was introduced in the Senate by state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), would amend state Indian Law by adding a new article titled "The Montaukett Indians." It would provide guidelines for issues, including tribal leadership and elections.

Robert Pharaoh, chief of the Montaukett Indian Nation and a Sag Harbor resident, said he would "absolutely" support the bill.

"That's what we've been fighting for the longest time," Pharaoh said.

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