Donna Collins-Smith, of Shinnecock Kelp Farmers, holds a line of...

Donna Collins-Smith, of Shinnecock Kelp Farmers, holds a line of sugar kelp in Moriches Bay in Center Moriches on June 2. Credit: Randee Daddona

Suffolk County has changed the name of its aquaculture lease program after a group of Shinnecock Indian Nation kelp farmers condemned the title on social media because the acronym spelled the word "scalp."

The program formerly known as the Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Program is now referred to as the Aquaculture Lease Program. The county has leased underwater sites in Peconic and Gardiners bays for shellfish cultivation since 2010, with plans to launch a kelp program.

Shinnecock Kelp Farmers, a nonprofit collective of tribal women sugar kelp farmers who work Shinnecock Bay, posted on Facebook that the name refers to an inhumane practice used by European settlers.

“The commodification of scalps as bounties contributed to the dehumanization and marginalization of indigenous people,” the group posted on March 20. “The term is disrespectful and insensitive.”

County spokesman Mike Martino said the county changed the name immediately after it was brought to their attention.

“Although the acronym has been in use for close to 15 years with no issues, the County Executive ordered immediate action to respond to the members of the Shinnecock Nation who voiced their concerns and had the name changed on all county websites by the next morning,” Martino said in a statement.

Shinnecock Kelp Farmers executive director Tela Troge could not be reached for comment.

Lance Gumbs, a Shinnecock leader who is also northeast regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, praised the county’s swift response and Legis. Ann Welker (D-Southampton) for advocating for the tribe.

“What not everyone understands is the historical trauma that tribes have been through,” he said. “I think the response was really good. That’s the fastest I’ve seen something move in Suffolk County in forever.”

Gumbs said the name underscores a larger issue over land rights and tribal sovereignty.

In its statement, Shinnecock Kelp Farmers advocated for co-management of underwater land, acknowledgment of Shinnecock underwater land rights and “meaningful consultation” with tribes.

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