State lawmakers again overwhelmingly passed a bill that would return state recognition to the Montaukett Indian Nation, with new language that codifies the term "reinstatement" and lists reasons why its status should never have been taken away.
The bill passed unanimously in both the Assembly and the Senate, where Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) on Tuesday said it was "time to correct this injustice" by reinstating a status that "should never have been taken away." The bill passed the Assembly 141-0, and the Senate 61-0.
Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a similar bill in December, indicating that more work was needed to verify the tribe’s historical designation. Hochul's predecessor, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, vetoed similar legislation three times before. Hochul didn't respond to a request for comment on the current bill.
Tribal leaders said they remain hopeful this week. "We hope that the new language in the bill addresses the governor's concerns and helps educate her staff members on the history of the Montuakett case," said Montaukett Indian Nation executive director Sandi Brewster-Walker.
WHAT TO KNOW
- State lawmakers have passed a bill that would return state recognition to the Montaukett Indian Nation. The bill passed the Assembly 141-0, and the Senate 61-0.
- Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a similar bill in December and her predecessor, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, vetoed similar legislation three times.
- The latest bill raises questions about a 1910 state court ruling that said the tribe had dispersed and “disintegrated,” and therefore no longer existed.
Assemb. Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), a longtime advocate for recognition for the Montauketts, said this year's bill, reworked with members of the Long Island tribe, differs from past bills by incorporating information about the legal problems with a state court ruling from 1910 that effectively erased the tribe's former status.
New language in the bill notes that the state Supreme Court Justice Abel Blackmur went beyond his authority in ruling in 1910 that the Montaukett Nation had dispersed and “disintegrated,” and therefore no longer existed. It was news to members of the tribe, who appeared in court and who brought the case to block a land claim in Montauk by developer Arthur Benson and the Long Island Rail Road.
The latest bill, the fifth, raises questions about the state court ruling, saying the tribe’s status was “improperly” removed because neither state nor federal judiciary branches had the authority to revoke an Indian Nation’s congressionally declared status.
The “arbitrary” 1910 ruling, the new bill states, “ignored earlier U.S. Supreme Court decisions defining Indian Nations according to criteria under which the Montaukett Indian Nation qualified as an existing sovereign tribe and giving Congress, rather than the courts, power to decide the status of an Indian.”
Other evidence exists that shows the tribe was recognized by the federal government. Newsday in 2017 reported that in the years before the ruling, the federal government had argued for the Montaukett’s status in the lead-up to the 1910 case. In a July 7, 1906, memorandum, C.F. Larrabee, acting commissioner of Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior, wrote that the Montauketts at the time were indeed “an existing Indian tribe” with valid land rights in Montauk.
Larrabee wrote that the Bensons and the Long Island Rail Road, among others, were “forever” restrained from taking the tribal land. The state court allowed the annexation anyway.
Thiele on Wednesday said he is hopeful the new approach to the bill will be enough to persuade Hochul to sign it. "The legislative findings focus on the fact that this is a reinstatement to correct a historical wrong," Thiele said. "The governor should consider the facts and law as they existed in 1910 and restore recognition."
Thiele said Hochul's 2022 veto was based on the "incorrect assumption that the current law and the current state of facts should apply and that the Montauketts should start from scratch as if the 1910 case never happened. In short, this is a reinstatement, not a new application."
Thiele also pointed to the recent passage of an Unmarked Burial Site protection bill, signed by Hochul, as the sign of a "new beginning between the governor and all Indian Nations in the state. I am hopeful that we can build on that success and she will take a fresh look at this issue. If she does, I am confident that she will see that the only just resolution of this matter to correct this historical wrong is to grant reinstatement and sign the bill."
Bewster-Walker said Montauketts “have been fighting for recognition for 113 years. Regulations and requirements change along the way. We’re willing to continue the work and move forward.”
Tribal sachem Robert Pharaoh, whose ancestors led the tribe for centuries, in December indicated that the tribe would once again seek federal recognition, renewing an effort he began decades ago.