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Cuomo vetoes Montaukett Indian bill — again

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo once again has vetoed a bill that would have given state recognition to the Montaukett Indian nation.

Four years ago, Cuomo vetoed Montaukett recognition because he said the state didn’t have the resources to conduct a thorough review process. Now, when offered a bill, sponsored by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), that would have skipped the review and instead immediately granted the Montauketts recognition as a tribe, the governor said a review was necessary.

“Providing state recognition to an Indian tribe warrants thorough and careful consideration of all interested parties,” Cuomo said in a statement. “However, this bill would require the state to bypass such analysis and recognize the Montaukett Indian tribe as an Indian nation without any process. Given that the state only recently received, and still continues to receive documentation that may impact its determination, it would be premature to act on this bill before the state can complete its review.”

Leila “Loving Spirit” O’Neal, who serves as clan mother and chairwoman of an interim government the tribe had created in anticipation of recognition, called Cuomo’s move “a very big disappointment” for the disparate tribe, which was scattered from its former Indian Fields reservation with a 1910 state court decision that declared the tribe extinct.

LaValle said he is examining ways to advance the bill’s aims.

“I’m going to try to negotiate this into the budget so that there’s appropriate money for the state to do their analysis,” LaValle said Thursday.

Despite overwhelming legislative support for the bill (it passed unanimously in the State Senate, and nearly so in the Assembly), LaValle said he didn’t believe an override of Cuomo’s veto would be successful.

“Myself and Assemblyman Thiele, and maybe a couple of others are interested in this, but beyond that you wouldn’t have the kind of support you’d need to have to override” the veto, LaValle said.

LaValle added he’d expected Cuomo to sign the bill and held out hope it could be in the future. “I’d thought we would get a signature on this,” he said. “But you have to be persistent.”

The governor’s veto statement said he would direct the State Department to work with the tribe to obtain information necessary for a review. But a plan to conduct that review in Cuomo’s 2013 veto was slow to advance, and tribal officials said they’d had little to no contact with the State Department over the intervening four years.

The tribe has been fighting for about three decades to regain state recognition. Thiele and LaValle got the bill through the Legislature in June in the final days of the legislative session, saying it would reverse an “erroneous” 1910 court decision that effectively declared the tribe extinct.

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

Neither LaValle nor Thiele immediately commented on the veto.

Montaukett Chief Robert Pharaoh had told Newsday the State Department had done very little to study the issue since the 2013 veto.

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