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Would-be tribal members knock on Shinnecocks' door

Rose Samuels, a blood-right Shinnecock Indian who lives

Rose Samuels, a blood-right Shinnecock Indian who lives in Patchogue, wants to move to the reservation. (Dec. 18, 2009) Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Tucked into the documentation last week proposing federal recognition for the Shinnecock Indian Nation was a little-known figure: The tribe is 22 percent smaller than previously thought.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs report said that the tribe, after internal analysis, "disenrolled" 201 members in January. Along with other scattered names dropped from the rolls over the years, the change reduced the tribe's ranks to 1,066 - down from the roughly 1,300 the Shinnecocks had long claimed.

Thoroughly scrutinized membership lists are one of the requirements of federal recognition. That assures that only true tribal members receive benefits from the federal government.

But for some who find themselves on the outside looking in with the hopes of reconnecting to the tribe, the federal recognition decision is bittersweet.

"I think it's wonderful. I want what's best for all my people," said Rose Samuels of Patchogue. She has waged a 15-year effort to move onto the Shinnecock reservation, where she said her ancestors once lived and are buried.

She is not alone. John Maynes of Bellport said he, too, has hundreds of family members who belong on both Shinnecock and Mastic-based Unkechaug tribe member lists. And Samuels said there may be another 300 in Setauket.

Samuels said while the tribe has given her and her daughters medical benefits that come with membership, her dream of owning a home on the South Fork property has been denied. "I wish I understood why they're not giving me my land."

Tribal leaders said disputes with members and those wishing to be members are internal matters they decline to discuss publicly. Samuels is seeking benefits for others in her family, no small matter. "I have a large family, 972 members," she said.

>>VIDEO: Click here to watch the Shinnecock leaders and members celebrate the good news of recognition

Samuels said she is in contact with clans who have Shinnecock links numbering in the hundreds in Amityville, Setauket and Bellport, among others. She said she believes the tribe used her name on membership rolls submitted to the government to increase tribal rolls. " If you are going to use our names for the rolls in federal recognition, then you need to give us all what we're entitled to - land."

In its report last week, the Indian Affairs bureau gave some cause for hope.

"The current, disenrolled and potential members who lack evidence for the proposed finding are closely related as kin to current members. . . . The Department anticipates that they should be able to locate the documentation necessary to resolve the few missing generation-to-generation connections."

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