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LI pols renew effort to recognize Montaukett tribe

ALBANY — Two Long Island legislators have renewed a push for the state to recognize the Montaukett Indian nation, four years after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed a similar bill.

The state Assembly approved a bill Thursday, 93-0, that would grant state recognition to the 1,500-member tribe. It was sponsored by Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who said they are trying to reverse an “erroneous” 1910 court decision that effectively declared the tribe extinct.

The new bill has important difference from the 2013 measure Cuomo vetoed: It simply says New York will recognize the tribe rather than set up a State Department process to recognize the tribe.

In his veto four years ago, the governor said establishing a recognition process would strain state resources. So this time, legislators want to skip that step.

“We’re not creating a process — we’re just recognizing them,” Thiele said Thursday morning shortly after the Assembly approved the bill. “This doesn’t involve land. It doesn’t involve casinos — that’s all federal stuff. It’s more about reversing that court decision from a century ago.”

“In 1910, they were a tribe,” LaValle said. “We’re recognizing them as a tribe again.”

If it becomes law, legislators said the measure also would allow the tribe to participate in some educational and health programs, but would have nominal financial impact on the state.

The bill now rests with the Senate. LaValle said he’s hoping the measure will go to the chamber floor for a vote before the end of the regular 2016 legislative session, scheduled for Wednesday.

After his 2013 veto, Cuomo said he’d direct the State Department to study state recognition for the Montauketts. But tribal leaders said little happened since then.

Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately comment Thursday on the new bill.


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