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Opinion

Right a wrong for Montauketts

Sachem Robert Pharaoh, whose family has led the

Sachem Robert Pharaoh, whose family has led the Montaukett Indian Nation for centuries. (Aug. 16, 2010) Photo Credit: Audrey C. Tiernan

The Montaukett Indian Nation hasn't had an easy time of it.

Ever since a New York State Supreme Court judge in 1910 upheld the private sale of Indian land on eastern Long Island, members have been scattered, turning the judge's pronouncement that the tribe had "disintegrated" into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yet dispersal doesn't mean disappearance. On the contrary, the tribe now numbers more than 1,200 across the Northeast. It's been seeking federal recognition for more than a decade, unfortunately without success. It isn't recognized by New York either.

But the Montauketts are nothing if not tenacious, and the tribe recently took a significant step toward re-establishing itself by gaining the support of two state lawmakers who've come out in favor of their legislative bid for state recognition.

It's about time. The Montauketts, like so many American Indians, have been ill-used by our legal system. Their pursuit of redress, moreover, is modest. They don't want a casino or the return of any land; they just seek acknowledgment, and the use of some property in Montauk for tribal gatherings, ceremonies and a cultural center. State recognition would also bring aid for education and health care.

Justice for the Montauketts is long overdue. Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) have done the right thing in taking up their cause. We wish them every success with it in Albany.

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