I have to give it to the Shinnecock Nation. After centuries of the kind of exploitation, oppression, and outright abuse that afflicted most Native Americans, Long Island’s power elite is teetering.
Gone are the days when shameless land speculators, their well-connected lawyers, and farmers and politicians cynically exploited them. Shinnecocks are no longer deluded into giving away what they have possessed for countless generations, which enables the Hamptons to thrive with hotels, resorts, estates and even a world-class golf course cynically named for the tribe.
The old story that white society left them on a 900 acre reservation, a tiny fraction of what was once theirs and barely existed, left the Shinnecocks at terrible disadvantage. Internal strife and poverty were their fate, and the harsh reality, frankly, was that no one on the outside really cared.
Less than a thousand Shinnecocks remained, and the local press covered any disputes tribal leaders had among themselves while their annual powwow celebration served as one of the tribe’s sole sources of income for its fighting people.
Then things slowly but surely began to change. It may have all to do with their vision, patience, and tenacity, which were permanently tied to their ancient heritage, their love for their land and the spirit of their ancestors. Nothing was out of reach.
Soon the Shinnecocks unexpectedly gained state and federal tribal recognition, became known as the Shinnecock Nation, and asserted their rights over the vast expanses of the South Fork that had been stolen from them. They dared to fight to exist, resisting the systematic extinction that the elites were planning for them all.
In order to achieve the economic self-sufficiency that had long eluded them, the Shinnecock Nation stood up against well-funded lawsuit after lawsuit, initiated by interference with private parties and government agencies at all levels. The nation shockingly erected an income-generating billboard 30 meters high on the nation’s property along the Montauk Highway and is now trying to operate a casino.
At first their casino ambition was turned down, but here the turtle-rabbit race analogy marks the determination of the Shinnecock Nation. They tacitly looked for project sponsors, initially without success. They looked for a place for their dream in several LI locations, but each failed. Undaunted and concentrated, they suddenly showed themselves to be extremely skilled. The power elite, who casually underestimated them, is suddenly being outmaneuvered, and they don’t like it at all.
The Shinnecocks eventually secured the partnership of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which is well established in the gaming industry with its hard rock and casino chain. New Jersey’s well-heeled tri-state partners have also joined the company. Then the US National Gaming Commission approved a gaming regulation specifically for the Shinnecocks for a 76,000 square foot Class II gaming facility on their territory on the Montauk Highway.
They all got together just last week to announce plans to build the Hamptons’ first casino. It will offer 1,000 video lottery terminals and 30 Texas Hold’em table games as well as a bingo parlor. You have already put together detailed surveys and plans for reducing traffic, as well as plans for extensive parking facilities. They plan to open in two years. The Shinnecocks will own the casino.
With all of this, they have worked hard to develop plans and funding for a gas station / grocery store, medical cannabis facility, and second 61-foot billboard for their territory.
The politicians have spoken out publicly against the casino; The Southampton Town Supervisor called it a “High Stakes Gamble”. He just says, “I don’t think it’s possible.” These are familiar words to the Shinnecocks. And now the Suffolk County executive wants the government to work “at all levels” with the Shinnecocks on their economic goals, with no casino as one of them. Too little too late?
The Shinnecock Nation won the race with the rabbit and fell asleep the confident rabbit. But there is one more thing they want in their project – a Class III play permit. They are pretty happy with the Class II casino they are planning now. And it doesn’t require approval from New York State. But a Class III does and with their added variety of table games it would be a pretty more profitable operation.
How will this drama develop? How far are the city administrator and district manager, ever close political allies, ready to move in what turns out to be a dream come true for the nation? Will the New York governor, also the county executive’s political ally, help? And if so, will he use his legal authority to issue the state Class III license for this project?
What kind of ghost encounter could result from this: a place outside the venerable Hamptons in exchange for a Class III gaming license? And where could this other place be? EPCAL? Or is the mention of EPCAL, to quote the superconscious rabbit, just “fear of deception”?
How the mighty have fallen into striving to strike a deal with a tribe that they and their predecessors wrote off long ago. What an irony that the crafty Shinnecocks were quick to get into the driver’s seat and felt safe, more than anyone would ever have thought.
Would that be an inspiration for the power elites of 350 years ago, the bygone descendants of the old South Fork families whose descendants still come first, and the vaunted Founding Fathers whose portraits hang in Hampton’s libraries, country clubs and historical societies their successors – they would all be able to see the Native Americans, who cruelly pushed them aside when no one noticed, slowly and surely gained the upper hand.
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