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Montaukett chief doubtful Cuomo will sign bill recognizing tribe

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with reporters in the

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on Jan. 18, 2017. Credit: TNS / Albin Lohr-Jones

The chief of the Montaukett Indian Nation said he is not holding out hope that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will sign a recently approved bill in the State Legislature that provides for official state “acknowledgement and recognition” of the fading Montauk tribe.

“I’m not going to hold my breath,” Robert Pharaoh, whose family has long led the Montaukett tribe, said last week. “Call me when the governor has signed it because it’s not going to happen.”

Pharaoh has led federal and state efforts for the Montauketts to regain their recognition for more than 30 years, to no avail. They have focused on reversing a 1910 state court decision that declared the tribe extinct, despite previously having been recognized. The court decision paved the way for annexing large swaths of tribal land in Montauk.

“They know we were victims of a land grab,” said Pharaoh. “State, federal and local governments are responsible. You think they are going to ante up? They can’t even get the subway straight.”

A spokesman for Cuomo said the bill was “under review.” In 2013, the governor vetoed a bill that would have created a process for granting state recognition for tribes. Instead, Cuomo ordered the Department of State to “study” the issue to determine the merit of Montaukett recognition. Pharaoh said that apart from an initial letter from that office saying formal interviews were imminent, he was never interviewed, as promised.

The newly approved state bill bypasses the process of recognition and grants the tribe formal state acknowledgement and recognition. The bill states that the Montaukett’s former recognition was “improperly removed” by the Pharaoh v. Benson decision in state court, and that a subsequent lawsuit called the case of “questionable propriety.”

“It is the purpose of this act to correct this impropriety by granting state recognition and acknowledgment to the Montaukett Indians,” says the bill, introduced by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). The bill passed unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature.

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