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LI Montaukett leader: Stop efforts to block Shinnecock bid

Robert Pharaoh is the Montaukett Nation Chief and

Robert Pharaoh is the Montaukett Nation Chief and Grand Sachem. (Aug. 16, 2010) Credit: Audrey C. Tiernan

A Long Island chief of the Montaukett Indian Nation Wednesday demanded that a lawyer for a rival leader cease his efforts to block the Shinnecock Nation's federal recognition using the Montaukett name or face legal action.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the attorney for a rival faction of Montauketts, Robert Pharaoh, whose ancestors led the Montaukett tribe for centuries, branded the effort by attorney Martin Seneca as "a stain on the honor of the Montaukett Nation."

Seneca, of Irving, N.Y., is the pro bono attorney for Robert Stevenson, a Cape May, N.J., leader of a faction of the Montaukett tribe that has filed an appeal with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs asking the agency to reconsider its decision granting federal recognition to the Shinnecock Nation. Stevenson's appeal has brought to a halt the Shinnecock's 32-year quest for federal recognition.

Pharaoh, of Sag Harbor, said most Montauketts want nothing to do with Stevenson's effort.

"The overwhelming majority of Montaukett are outraged and strongly object to your action, which is harming the Montaukett nation," Pharaoh wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Newsday. "You have assumed authority to take this action through an individual who does not have the right to empower you to do so," he said, referring to Stevenson.

Seneca, a former board member for Seneca Gaming Corp., which operates upstate Indian casinos, didn't respond to calls seeking comment.

Pharaoh wrote Seneca "it is obvious to all that your true motive for conducting this action has nothing to do with championing the cause of the Montaukett." A spokesman for Pharaoh said if Seneca fails to respond, the tribe would file a motion with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Board of Indian Appeals asking a judge to block the Stevenson appeal.

In an interview, Stevenson said he speaks as the elected leader of the Montauketts, along with an executive council of seven members.

Those members, many of whom are Stevenson relatives, back the Shinnecock appeal, he said. Stevenson questioned Pharaoh's status as leader.

Stevenson, who said his mother was a Shinnecock, said his aim is to unite all Long Island tribes under a single Montaukett confederacy, attached to the Shinnecock Nation.

His chief effort is to reclaim land for Long Island tribes, he said.

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