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Shinnecocks angered by Supreme Court’s refusal to hear land claim

Gordell Wright, Randy King and Lance Gumbs of

Gordell Wright, Randy King and Lance Gumbs of the Shinnecock Indian Nation speak to the media after their hearing at federal court in Central Islip on July 21, 2010. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Shinnecock Indian Nation’s tribal trustees expressed “frustration and outrage” over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week not to hear their case asserting land claims in Southampton.

The court in a one-line notice June 27 denied the tribe’s petition to re-assert claims in the town, a case that the tribe hoped was to be a bargaining chip for a plan to open casinos on Long Island and elsewhere in the state.

In a letter to tribal members posted on a Shinnecock community Facebook page, tribal trustees said they were “very dismayed by this ruling” and they would be meeting with legal counsel to “strategize on a plan of action.”

“We will not let this historical injustice stand and we will continue to stand up for our rights,” the trustees wrote.

In an interview, Bryan Polite, chairman of the tribal trustees, said the tribe was exploring “multiple options” to revive the claims, including filing a petition before the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and refiling a case in federal court.

Polite said the courts’ previous arguments in rejecting the claim that essentially too much time had lapsed since their land was taken is a “slap in the face,” Polite said.

“This is what we fight for, from 1859,” he said, referring to the year the suit charges the 3,600 acres were stripped from the tribe. “It has had grave consequences ever since then and every generation has battled this. That’s why everybody is so passionate about it.”

The tribe lost an appeal in the case earlier this year from the Second Circuit Court in Manhattan.

The federal case by the Shinnecock Nation, filed in 2005 against New York State, Southampton Town and luxury home developers, argued that an 1859 state law illegally annexed 3,600 acres in Southampton town to pave the way for a Long Island Rail Road line. The largest portions of the contested property are at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Course, the Stony Brook Southampton campus and several tracts of luxury homes, most surrounding the tribe’s 800-acre reservation.

The tribe reportedly traded its claim to the land in 1859 to private investors in exchange for title to its 800-acre reservation. Paperwork bears the signature of 21 tribal members, but the Shinnecocks claim some of those signatures were fake.

Randy King, who was chairman of the tribal trustees when the case was filed, said the Supreme Court’s denial won’t deter the tribe. “The land-claim issue is and should be the single most important issue to the tribe, period,” King said.

In 2010, the tribe was granted federal recognition after a decades-long effort, paving the way for increased health, education and governmental benefits, and opening the door for the tribe to pursue one or more casinos. To date those efforts have failed. The land claim, if successful, would have been a bargaining chip in the tribe’s negotiation for a compact with the state over potential casino sites.

A spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman didn’t immediately comment.

Former tribal chairman Lance Gumbs said the tribe “is not going to give up.”

“It’s a miscarriage of justice to think that the State of New York can break federal law to steal the tribe’s land and the tribe cannot even get compensation for it.”

With Will James

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