Senate passes Montaukett recognition bill

Montauketts in 1924. A 1910 court ruling declared

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

The State Senate Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that creates a pathway for the Montaukett Indian Nation to re-establish its state recognition, clearing a second major hurdle to undo a devastating 1910 court ruling that declared the tribe extinct.

The bill establishes an "objective criteria for consideration of acknowledgment or recognition" of the tribe in its request for state acknowledgment. If successful, the tribe would join such Long Island tribes as the Unkechaug and Shinnecock Indian Nation, which have been recognized for centuries.

The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Kenneth LaValle, passed by a 62-0 vote.

"It's a very historic bill," LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said after the vote. "We are putting the Montauketts on a pathway to get state recognition. It will hopefully give them what they rightfully deserve."

Robert Pharaoh, sachem of the Montaukett tribe, declined to comment.

Passage by the full legislature marks the first time the bill, which has been introduced since the mid-2000s, has been passed by both bodies. It now awaits Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's approval. A spokesman last week said the governor would review it if it passed both chambers.

The Montauketts have been splintered since the 1910 state court ruling that declared the tribe effectively extinct and paved the way for the strongly disputed transfer of thousands of acres of tribal lands to private hands extending for miles west from Montauk Point. The Montauketts, and historians, have consistently rejected the legality of those transfers.

The Assembly version, which passed by a 98-5 vote, was sponsored by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who called it a "first step toward reversing this wrong."

State recognition for the Montauketts also would provide the tribe with state health and education programs.

The tribe has about 1,500 members across the country. Many are clustered in enclaves on Long Island, including in Sag Harbor, where Pharaoh lives, and throughout the Northeast.

Passage of the bill would "correct a 113-year-old injustice," Pharaoh said last week, when he urged the governor to sign the bill because "it's the right thing to do."

"We only want to be able to re-establish ourselves here and keep our culture and ways of life alive," he said, adding that the nation wants to build a museum/cultural center in Montauk, with its own funding. "We are looking to work with people rather than against them."

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