As the state doubles down in its effort to scuttle the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s digital billboard project on Sunrise Highway, it's drawing the ire of a Southampton resident who is providing moral and financial support to the tribe: Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters.
In an interview Friday, Waters told Newsday that he’s helping fund the tribe's legal defense in the court case brought by the state Department of Transportation in 2019, saying he found the state’s threats to fine the tribe and remove its revenue-generating sign project fundamentally unfair. The state was denied a temporary restraining order to stop construction on the north-side site and use of the already completed sign on the south side. More recently, the state sent a stop-work order and a letter threatening $1,000 fines for unpermitted work, while threatening to remove the 61-foot structures, an economic engine for the nation. The tribe has refused the state's order, saying the department has no authority over tribal land, and arguing it will defend its property and sovereignty.
"It’s like the state is trying to starve the nation into submission," Waters said.
He declined to say how much he’s provided in financial support but said, "I give them as much help as I can in every way I can. I think they deserve it and need it."
Waters gave similar support to the tribe’s Warriors of the Sunrise activist group when they held an encampment at the tribe’s property on Sunrise Highway in the fall, culminating in a food giveaway that distributed more than 500 bags of groceries to needy Long Islanders.
"I thought that was a beautiful gesture," he said. "I’m with them 100 percent."
Waters said he’s not alone. "I’m confident there’s an enormous amount of goodwill in this neighborhood towards the Shinnecock Nation," he said, including sympathy toward the tribe as the state presses its case to fine and remove the billboards. "And I think there’s a groundswell of feeling that enough is enough."
Waters said he found it particularly troubling that the state is pushing its case as the Shinnecock Nation is responding to an outbreak of COVID-19 on its Southampton reservation. "What income they have been able to generate in spite of COVID all gets sucked into legal expenses," he said.
He called what the state is doing "lawfare."
"It’s heavily weighted on the side of the litigant with the deepest pockets," he said. "It’s lawfare, to batter their opponent into submission."
Asked for a response to Waters’ comments, Joseph Morrissey, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said: "The state is required under federal law to control outdoor advertising adjacent to the federal-aid highway system in order to protect the safety of the traveling public." The department has previously said the work on Sunrise Highway's right of way is unsafe, and could jeopardize federal funding for the roadway, charges the tribe has denied. A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo didn't respond to a request for comment.
Shinnecock Nation tribal chairman Bryan Polite said Waters has been "very supportive."
"He saw the inequities the nation is facing and the absurdities of New York State’s actions against us, and he’s putting his money where his mouth is," Polite said. "More than that, he’s become a staunch advocate for us. It does take allies to help us, and he’s become an integral part of this fight, and we’re really very happy to have his advocacy."