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Assembly passes bill recognizing Montauketts

Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) sponsored a

Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) sponsored a bill that would create a pathway for the Montaukett Indian Nation to once again become a New York State-recognized tribe. (May 20, 2010) Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

A bill that would create a pathway for the Montaukett Indian Nation to once again become a New York State-recognized tribe passed the Assembly Thursday.

It's the first time the bill, which has been introduced in various forms in the State Legislature for years, has passed in the Assembly by 98-5 vote. The bill, sponsored by Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) has a Senate sponsor in Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who introduced it again this year.

"I'm expecting it to pass the Senate," LaValle said Thursday.

"Obviously, I'm happy about it," said Montaukett Sachem Robert Pharaoh, whose family has led the Montauketts for centuries.

The bill would establish an "objective criteria for consideration of acknowledgment or recognition" of the tribe in its request for state acknowledgment. If successful, the tribe would join Long Island tribes such as the Unkechaug and Shinnecock Indian Nation, which have been recognized for centuries.

The tribe has about 1,500 members across the country, Pharaoh said. Many are clustered in enclaves on Long Island, including in Sag Harbor, where Pharaoh lives, and throughout the Northeast.

The Montauketts have been splintered since a devastating 1910 state court ruling that declared the tribe effectively extinct and paved the way for the strongly disputed transfer of thousands of acres of tribal lands to private hands extending for miles west from Montauk Point. The Montauketts, and historians, have consistently rejected the legality of those transfers.

"Today, we take the first step toward reversing this wrong," Thiele said. "This legislation will permit the Montaukett Indians to petition the state of New York to restore their sovereign status . . . I am confident that if the Montauketts are given the opportunity to petition, they will regain their state recognition."

State recognition for the Montauketts would do more than right a century-old wrong, Thiele said. "There are state health and education programs that come with state recognition," he said.

Passage of the bill would "correct a 113-year-old injustice," Pharaoh said. "We're happy it's moving the right way."

If it passes the Senate, the bill would still require Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's signature. Matthew Wing, a Cuomo spokesman, said the governor would review the bill once it passes the full legislature.

Pharaoh urged the governor to sign the bill because "it's the right thing to do."

"We only want to be able to re-establish ourselves here and keep our culture and ways of life alive," he said, adding that the nation wants to build a museum/cultural center in Montauk, with its own funding. "We are looking to work with people rather than against them."


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