Sandi Brewster-walker, a member of the Montaukett Indian Nation and...

Sandi Brewster-walker, a member of the Montaukett Indian Nation and an Amityville High graduate, addresses Amityville school board members on June 28. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Gov. Kathy Hochul has again vetoed legislation that would have returned state recognition to the Montaukett Indian Nation, a move one tribal leader called “cruel.”

Hochul's veto statement cited a 1910 state Supreme Court ruling that declared the tribe dispersed and “disintegrated” and said the tribe “has not provided required information” needed for state approval.

Montaukett members, lawmakers and legal experts have labeled that 1910 court decision flawed and "racist."

"For the governor to cite that decision as a basis for the veto is outrageous,” said Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor), who added, “I am ashamed of our state government.”

He called the court decision “one of the most racist decisions in New York State jurisprudence." 

“I’m crushed,” said Sandi Brewster-walker, an author and historian who is the Montaukett nation’s executive director. “How could she be so cruel?”

“I’m outraged,” said Harry Wallace, chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation on the Poospatuck reservation in Mastic. The veto is “insult to injury. It’s particularly obnoxious during Native American Heritage Month and a week before Thanksgiving,” he said.

Friday night's veto marks the second time Hochul has vetoed the bill, which was passed unanimously in the State Legislature. Then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also vetoed the bill, on three separate occasions, after it previously passed the legislature with widespread support.

Brewster-walker said the tribe has been speaking with lawyers about a lawsuit against the state to regain its recognition. Chief Robert Pharaoh has said the tribe would consider pursuing federal recognition. 

Hochul noted that the 1910 decision ruled the “historic Montaukett community in New York no longer functioned as a government unit in the state, a decision that was confirmed unanimously by the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals.”

Newsday has reported that even while the state courts declared the Montaukett tribe disintegrated, the federal government affirmed its existence. 

In a July 7, 1906, memorandum filed as part of the tribe’s court case, C.F. Larrabee, acting commissioner of Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior, wrote that the Montauketts were “an existing Indian tribe” with land rights in Montauk, and that the groups that had claimed the tribe's land in the 1910 case, including the wealthy Benson family and the Long Island Rail Road, should be “forever” restrained from taking the tribal land.

Hochul’s statement said the recognition process remains open to the Montauketts. She said the state provided the Montauketts with a letter “identifying what information it could provide to the state that would allow the state to reach a positive decision on its behalf. To date, the Montaukett Indian Nation has not provided that required information.”

Brewster-walker said she has worked tirelessly to provide the state with all information asked for, and said the state did not provide any recent notification that documents were lacking.

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