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Sources: Thousands inquire into Shinnecock membership

John Maynes, an Unkechaug Tribe member who has

John Maynes, an Unkechaug Tribe member who has started a legal process to disprove the "blood right" of the tribe's chief, Harry Wallace. Maynes claims Wallace is not a descendant of Native American Shinnecock Indians. Photo Credit: Newsday/Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

With widespread publicity about the Shinnecocks' drive for federal recognition, the tribe has received a steady stream of inquiries from people who believe they are tribal members.

Shinnecock leaders declined to discuss the issue. But those close to the tribe said the inquiries are in the thousands.

One of them is John Maynes, a man whose family's ties to the Unkechaug tribe in Mastic is now the subject of a lawsuit. Maynes said he and 300 family members, most living in Bellport, also have blood ties to the Shinnecocks, and will seek to assert them.

"We are all Shinnecocks, so, eventually, once they go federal, they have to let us in," Maynes said.

Federal recognition would provide the Shinnecocks access to federal programs for housing, health and education. And the right to build a casino.

Mark Tilden, an attorney at the Native American Rights Fund who is working on the Shinnecock case, said it's common for tribes awaiting recognition decisions to be flooded with membership claims.

"There are always those individuals who will try to take advantage of the situation," he said, speaking generally.

In the Shinnecocks' case, he said, the bar may be higher. "They have a very strong membership criteria," he said. The tribe declined to discuss it.

The tribe can accept applications for membership even after the decision on federal recognition is reached.

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