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Cuomo expected to act on 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

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to act Saturday on legislation that would pave the way for the Montaukett Indian Nation to gain state recognition, undoing a century-old court ruling that declared the tribe extinct.

The bill, already approved by the State Legislature, was sent to Cuomo for signing on Sept. 17. He has until Saturday to act on it. If Cuomo neither signs nor vetoes the measure, it becomes law.

The bill empowers the state to implement a process for recognizing the tribe -- required because the state constitution currently has no such provision. After a review of up to 180 days, the secretary of state would make a recommendation on the tribe's request.

Montaukett members -- some 1,500 strong throughout Long Island, the Northeast and across the country, according to the tribe -- have long sought state recognition as a way to reverse a devastating 103-year-old court decision in a Montauk land-claim case that declared the tribe extinct.

Wording in the legislation says the tribe's prior state recognition was "questionably removed" in the 1910 case. A subsequent 1994 case, also in State Supreme Court, declared the century-old case of "questionable propriety."

State recognition would also provide the tribe with state health and education programs, and reinvigorate a related effort for federal recognition.

The Montaukett tribe, which applied for federal recognition in 1995, wants to create a cultural center in Montauk to house tribal artifacts and historical information. Federal recognition has been stalled by efforts by a Montaukett splinter group also seeking the status.

Montaukett sachem Robert Pharaoh, whose family has led the tribe for generations, has said the tribe has no interest in gambling or other commercial ventures in seeking recognition.

"We only want to be able to re-establish ourselves here and keep our culture and ways of life alive," he said in June.


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