Shinnecock Nation Fighting to Get Land Back

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown September 8th, 2014 Last Updated on: September 8th, 2014

When you hear someone talking about The Hamptons in New York the first thing you picture is the playground of the wealthy and famous. Fine dining, nightclubs and beach parties galore. However long before Long Island's East End was built up into a rich person's paradise, the Shinnecock Indians thrived here. Unfortunately we all know what happened when colonialism arrived on our shores. Today, the Shinnecock Indian Nation consists of less than 1,500 members, about half of whom live on the tribe’s 750-acre reservation on the island’s southeastern shore.

Photo by Andrew Brannan

Photo by Andrew Brannan

Vice Magazine had a recent article talking about the ongoing struggle the Shinnecock Nation is in to reclaim their land.

To understand how the Shinnecocks lost their land, we need to go back to 1703. That year, English settlers representing the Town of Southampton completed a lease agreement with the Shinnecocks that recognized their ownership of thousands of acres of land on eastern Long Island. This land was to be controlled by the tribe for a period of 1,000 years—in other words, in perpetuity. And for more than 150 years, the Shinnecocks lived on this land, occasionally fighting off raids from other tribes, while engaging in the fishing and whaling for which they were famous.

Then, in April of 1859, white residents decided there was no compelling reason why the natives should get to keep all the land that was legally promised to them. So they concocted a transparently bogus “agreement” in which the Shinnecock leaders inexplicably consented to transfer the “right, title, and interest” to 3,600 acres of pristine land to these white people. Residents brazenly forged tribal leaders’ signatures and presented the document to state legislators, who authorized the transfer in defiance of federal law, which required congressional approval for such things. The economic stakes here were not insignificant, with a railroad included in the development plans business interests had for this land, and that may have been enough incentive for the state to look the other way. In any case, there was very little legal or political risk in strong-arming an Indian tribe back in those days, and the theft was swiftly carried out.

Fast-forward about 150 years. In the summer of 2005, the Shinnecock Indian Nation filed a lawsuit in federal court against, among other parties, New York State and the Town of Southampton. The Nation sought financial compensation and the removal of all current residents from the land so that it may be returned to the tribe.

Of course none of the rich people were having that! The courts ruled in favor of the elite as well saying any sort of land transfer back to the Shinnecock Nation would be “disruptive”. Gee, where was this court when the land was first being taken away from the Shinnecock? That seems more disruptive to me.

An appeal of the ruling is pending. We'll just have to wait and see how this all plays out.

Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture » Shinnecock Nation Fighting to Get Land Back

About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.

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Tara Martin

411 Million? He sent that to the Palestinians while we have Native Folks here with their homes falling apart, no way to heat their homes in the winter and not enough food, and lacking health care? But we have money to send overseas? How about take care of the folks here in need, and help other countries as we have funds for it? WAKE UP! I grew up on Long Island and went to the Shinnecock Powwow. My cousin participated and this was back in the 50’s and 60’s. The Native folks were wronged so many ways… their land, integrity, hope and peacefulness was stolen as well.


The Obama administration has just given $411 million to the Palestinians, these funds should be going to the native American peoples for the lands the US stole from them, not to some crazy people who are popular simply because they hate Jews.


Those pieces of land still in hands of the Government should be deeded to the Natives free and clear.

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