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Shinnecocks to meet Thursday with Obama

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation celebrate a

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation celebrate a court decision that clerared the way for federal recognition for their tribe. (Oct. 1, 2010) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Trustees of the Shinnecock Indian Nation are in Washington for their first formal meeting Thursday with President Barack Obama as a federally recognized tribe.

Tribes attending the White House Tribal Nation's conference will argue for an executive fix to a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that limits Native Americans' ability to convert private land into federal trust, Shinnecock leaders said. They will also seek more federal funding for tribal programs.

The meeting with Obama and members of his administration is bittersweet for the Shinnecocks, whose 1,200 members waited 32 years for their application to be approved.

Full recognition was delayed several months by late challenges. That caused the tribe to miss the application deadline for federal programs in the 2011 budget cycle. Plans to seek funding for a tribal law-enforcement system, infrastructure grants and health care assistance will have to wait another year, trustees said.

But the historic achievement of having nation-to-nation status and sitting among the 565 tribes meeting with Obama at the Interior Department Thursday is real, tribal leaders say.

"We're excited about it and very pleased to be a part of the process," tribal chairman Randy King said.

Shinnecock officials have been in Washington all week, meeting with other tribes on priorities to bring to the administration. Tops among them, said Lance Gumbs, Shinnecock trustee, will be to seek Obama's support for a fix to a Supreme Court ruling last year that put a stiff new restriction on land-into-trust arrangements.

Tribes seeking land for housing, hospitals and gaming facilities off their reservations must first convert private land through federal land-into-trust arrangements, essentially making the outside land part of the reservation. The Supreme Court ruled last year that tribes recognized after 1934 don't have the right to convert land into federal trust.

"It's had a devastating impact in Indian Country," Gumbs said. "It's especially a problem for tribes in the East, which have much smaller land bases," and rely on such arrangements.

The Shinnecocks plan to open up to three casinos on Long Island, and any easing of the restriction would help them. The Shinnecocks, officially recognized Oct. 1, technically could open a low-level casino on their 600-acre reservation, but have agreed not to.

The Shinnecocks also spoke earlier this year with Kimberly Teehee, Obama's senior policy adviser for Native American affairs, on a plan to explore use of the Stony Brook Southampton campus as a Native American college, which would depend on federal aid.

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