Friday, June 17, 2005

Summering with the Shinnecock

I think we've all heard of The Hamptons, that exclusive summer playground of the rich and famous, home to P-Diddy, Billy Joel, Seinfeld, The Hiltons, and numerous other East Coast celebs and millionaires. Turns out that property, where the average home is US$993,269, and more exclusive conclaves can run to an average of US$1.39-million, should belong to the Shinnecock tribe.

Now the Shinnecock aren't telling the rich to leave their their homes, but they are claiming that the land was taken from them by the State of New York and they would now like to be paid some back rent and interest. How much could that be, you ask? Well, the land has been assessed at a value of US$1.7 billion. You could hold a pretty nice Labor Day Powwow with that cash.

The Shinnecock have long held that this land was taken form them illegally. It seems that about 150 years ago a group of private investors got the New York legislature to approve the transfer of the land based on a petition signed by a mere 21 Shinnecocks. Some of those "signatures" were only "X", and others belonged to minors and, uh, dead people. Yes, dead people.

Now some people are claiming that this lawsuit, which certainly seems unwinnable, considering the facts that the Shinnecock are not a federally recognized tribe and recent court losses like Oneida Indian Nation v. City of Sherrill imply the courts may not be friendly to Indian land claims, was filed as leverage in casino negotiations. The Shinnecock have been trying to open a casino on their 800 acre reservation in the Hamptons, but their snooty neighbors, who I am sure happily vacation in Vegas and Monte Carlo, have strongly opposed the plan.

Randy King, chairmen of the tribes board of trustees, says "This land claim will enable us to have what our vacationing neighbours take for granted - steady jobs, better education for our children and access to quality healthcare."

I agree. I figure whether the money to fund those things comes from a casino or by forcing the hand of the State of New York, the Shinnecocks have some payback coming their way.


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