Activists from Long Island’s Indigenous nations joined with other community groups to release a sweeping plan Tuesday they said would help address long-standing inequalities in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.
“Reimagine Long Island: Roadmap for a People’s Economy,” by Cooperation Long Island lists a series of actions needed to be taken at the county, state and local levels.
Members of the coalition, which came together with the start of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, said the current national attention on social justice and inequalities highlighted by the health crisis offer a unique opportunity for change.
“This group right here — this is a moment in time that we’ll never see again,” Mimi Pierre-Johnson, founder of the Elmont Cultural Center, said during a news conference on Zoom to discuss the document's release.
The seven-page document outlines a number of issues, including education justice, economy democracy, climate and energy justice, housing justice, food justice and Indigenous sovereignty.
Coalition members urged supporters to distribute the road map to communities and lawmakers across Long Island as a first step in helping to get it implemented.
One key piece of the road map is getting tribal land rights restored to the Shinnecock Nation for land that is now the Shinnecock Hills Golf Course and Stony Brook Southampton campus. That would require federal legislation.
“We’re about preserving the land and preventing our ancestors graves from being desecrated,” said Rebecca Genia, co-chair of the Shinnecock Grave Protection Warrior Society. “We are building alliances of like-minded people to help us slow down this crisis down for the environment, for the prevention of desecration of graves, for the wildlife, for the water quality, for all the good reasons the land has to be protected from greed and profit.”
The group also said the state needed to establish an entity, such as a Native American Advisory Board or Office of Indian Affairs, to stay in contact with Indigenous governments.
The Reimagine platform also seeks to “remedy over 100 years of erasure of the Montaukett people by providing state recognition and acknowledgment of the Montaukett Indian Nation.”
The Montaukett Indian Nation and its sachem Robert Pharaoh have worked for years to restore both the tribe’s federal and state recognition, after a state judge in a 1910 court ruling labeled the tribe all but extinct. Pharaoh and more than 1,000 others have ancestral links back to original Montaukett people.
Sandi Brewster-Walker, executive director of the Montaukett Indian Nation, said she continued to provide requested information to the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has for the past three years vetoed a bill by Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) that would restore the Montaukett tribe’s state recognition.
“There was not enough information sent to him and not enough information at the time,” said Brewster-Walker, explaining Cuomo’s vetoes. “I’ve been supplying that information that will help us move forward.”
The group also called on Nassau and Suffolk counties to invest in small-scale, worker-owned food production, processing, and service cooperatives as well as making a “significant portion” of all habitable, publicly owned vacant land available to community-owned/democratically controlled housing at nominal or below-market prices.
Schools on Long Island should prioritize the community school model, which provides a wide variety of social services to students and their families, the group said.