The United States of America is finally on the verge of giving formal recognition to another sovereign nation, the Shinnecock Indians of Southampton. Congratulations to tribal members on the good news from Washington that their long fight to prove their identity and claim their rights as an ancient people may soon be over.
While the focus is quickly shifting to the tribe's new power to operate a casino, this is a moment to celebrate a historic event. New York has always recognized Shinnecock sovereignty - indeed the legislature was involved in a questionable episode in 1859 that took away most of the tribe's land for a railroad - yet it took the tribe more than three decades and a lawsuit to persuade the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Recognition will give the tribe access to funding for Indian health and educational services. Other benefits are eligibility for special federal mortgages to build and improve homes - the type of financing that is impossible to get for communally owned land. The tribe is working with Stony Brook University on a program to increase the understanding of its history.
A final ruling on recognition isn't expected until May, but the Shinnecocks have already made clear that they want to be good neighbors and environmental stewards by not opening a casino on their reservation. That's a good start to an important conversation about just where the tribe's gambling operation should be located. hN