The Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale will host an...

The Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale will host an exhibit on Long Island seafarers of color, with help from a $25,000 grant from the National Park Service. Credit: Long Island State Parks

Two exhibitions delving into maritime histories of people of color on Long Island are among several projects statewide to be awarded federal grants totaling nearly $400,000 from the National Park Service.

An exhibit on Long Island seafarers of color will be based at the Connetquot River State Park Preserve. Another looking at kelp farming in the Shinnecock community will be displayed at Jones Beach State Park. Each was awarded $25,000 of the $392,500 set aside to fund exhibits by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. 

The two Long Island projects and other awarded exhibits aim “to fund education programs and projects that will preserve sites and objects related to the nation’s maritime history,” according to a statement from the state parks office. Education projects are getting nearly $240,000 of the agency's award, while $150,000 will go to preservation. 

“When you think about the state’s maritime resources, there’s an overabundance of stories to tell and features to preserve — from historic watercraft design and construction, commercial whaling and fishing, and inland and canal navigation, to naval history, light stations and navigational aids, and commerce and trade,” said state parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid in the statement. 

On Long Island, the two exhibitions hope to illuminate the role that people of color played in maritime pursuits, according to two organizers working to develop the programs. The dates of the exhibits have yet to be determined. 

Sandi Brewster-Walker, executive director and government affairs officer for the Montaukett Indian Nation, said her research seeks to highlight the work of Long Island whalers of color — an underappreciated yet key contributor to the area's seafaring history. 

“But you go to a lot of the whaling museums, and they don’t even mention them … so people don’t know about them,” Brewster-Walker said. 

Her forthcoming traveling exhibit is hoping to change that. She said it will feature large panels and other educational materials — and maybe some artifacts. 

It’s about bringing whalers of color further in the light “so people will have a better understanding,” she said. 

The other exhibition will focus on multigenerational Shinnecock farmers of kelp, which has environmental benefits. 

Seaweed species such as kelp absorb carbon dioxide — a cause of climate change when in the atmosphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA — and sunlight and water, producing oxygen and sugar through photosynthesis. 

Audiences may see depictions by Native American artists portraying kelp and the seaside. Presentations from kelp farmers and educational booklets may be among other aspects of the exhibit. The first show is expected to be held at Jones Beach and then on Shinnecock territory. 

"All of this information is a little difficult to find in one place,” said Jeremy Dennis, who is working to develop the project and is also a founding artist of Ma’s House, a communal art space on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.

“We're hoping this will be an all-inclusive Shinnecock kelp farming art exhibit.”

Dennis said the Shinnecock kelp farmers emphasize the 10,000-year experience, or the thousands of years of Indigenous knowledge that’s passed down from generation to generation. 

And as effects of climate change become more pronounced, he said that knowledge is something that should be heeded because it centers on a balance with the environment. 

“And so today, like more than ever, we need to revert back to these practices, pay attention to Indigenous people and just try to save the water that we have access to right now,” he said.

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