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Shinnecock leaders call on members to attend hearing

Dancers in traditional dress perform during the Shinnecock

Dancers in traditional dress perform during the Shinnecock Indian Nation's annual powwow. (Sept. 5, 2009) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Incensed by two last-minute attempts to block their federal recognition, leaders of the Shinnecock Indian Nation called on the entire 1,200-person membership to attend a court hearing in Central Islip Wednesday as they fight to put their long-awaited status back on track.

On the day the nation was to celebrate its first day as a federally recognized tribe, one leader said a sense of sadness had been replaced by one of resolve. "We'll continue to fight," said senior trustee Lance Gumbs.

Chairman Randy King said he called on the entire tribal membership to attend the court hearing Wednesday "to celebrate our heritage."

Also Tuesday, two Shinnecock members created a Facebook page to announce the formation of the New York Coalition for Shinnecock Gaming, which is calling for a boycott of Connecticut casinos they say are seeking to block the Southampton tribe's federally recognized status.

Tela Loretta Troge, who is attending American Indian Law Center's Pre Law Summer Institute, said she created the page with another tribal member, Kelly Dennis, out of "frustration" at "not being able to get Bureau of Indian Affairs scholarships for school next month" because of the Connecticut group's filing.

The actions come in response to efforts by two separate groups, the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs and a splinter faction of the Montaukett Tribe, which filed objections with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals in the days before the tribe's status was to take effect.

A spokesman for the Connecticut coalition, which has refused to disclose its membership or financial backing, didn't respond to inquiries seeking comment Tuesday. Owners of the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut have denied involvement in the coalition.

Robert Stevens, the self-proclaimed Montaukett chief leading a separate objection, said he wants all Long Island Indian tribes to be covered by the Shinnecocks' recognition under a "Montaukett confederacy." Two other Montaukett chiefs have disavowed the Stevenson group's efforts.

Both groups' requests go before a judge on the U.S. Interior Board of Indian Appeals, who could take weeks or months to review and rule on them. Shinnecock attorneys say they will file answers to the objections quickly.

In Central Islip Wednesday, tribal attorneys and members will appear before U.S. District Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco to update the court on the tribe's recognition status. Bianco last year advanced the tribe's cause by approving an agreement between the tribe and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to act on the Shinnecocks' 32-year-old application for recognition by last December.

The BIA's office of acknowledgment handed down a final determination approving it last month.

Mark Tilden, an attorney for the tribe at Tilden McCoy in Boulder, Colo., said he hoped that more may come of Wednesday's hearing. "We would hope the judge would take notice of the actions against the tribe and would consider doing something about it," Tilden said.

It is not clear if Bianco can dispense with the objections.

Tuesday would have been the tribe's first day of federally recognized status. The tribe met Monday night at what might have been a celebration, members said. "It was sad," Gumbs said. "But we have a lot of resolve."

King said he's urging members not to lose hope. "I wake up and I'm in a place called Shinnecock. I look out the window and I can see waterfowl and deer, and I'm thankful for the family that's around us."

Support for the tribe is coming from a new ally. Last week, the The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council called the efforts to block Shinnecock recognition "a self-serving and hypocritical campaign aimed at a proud people who fought for over three decades to gain federal recognition."

Spokesman Neal Kwatra said the union, which has reached an agreement with the tribe to staff any possible Shinnecock casinos, hasn't decided whether it will join a boycott of Connecticut casinos, but said, "We've been ever-present and pushing back against these groups. If they continue to be mischievous, anything and everything is on the table from our perspective."

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