Militant Journalism

Indigenous sovereignty struggle on Long Island: Shinnecock Nation, allies fight back

While embroiled in a battle against the New York State government for their sovereignty, the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s “Warriors of the Sunrise” and allies organized a food drive for all who came by on Nov. 25, on what is now known as Long Island. The battle has focused on a highway advertising space on Shinnecock land which is important to the nation’s economy, but which New York officials seek to block. 

Fight For sovereignty near Thanksgiving

The action took place the day before Thanksgiving, which the Shinnecock and many Indigenous nations recognize as a national day of mourning. 500 bags of food, variably filled with turkey, ham, salmon and a variety of vegetables were prepared and distributed. In each bag was a pamphlet detailing the economic warfare New York State was, and is, waging against Shinnecock sovereignty, and how to help. From morning to night, determined Shinnecock Warriors and organizers handed out food and advocated for the Shinnecock’s right to sovereign self-determination.

Community members collect food from the-supply drive. Liberation Photo.

People came by to pick up meals for themselves, for their families and neighbors, grateful for the food. Cars passing by honked in support. By the end of the day all 500 bags of food were handed out.

Billboard battle latest in colonial attacks

Across from the parking lot on Sunrise Highway where this event took place is the Shinnecock Monument: a large tower with electronic advertising space, through which the Shinnecock Nation can generate revenue. Setting up the monument–which is on Shinnecock land–has been an uphill battle against economic warfare waged by New York state. 

This is only the latest in attacks from the government on Shinnecock economic sovereignty, after other battles over pursuing whaling, or business in tobacco. In the case of the monument, New York State has filed a lawsuit to stop Shinnecock Nation from completing the construction of a second monument on the other side of the highway. This area of Long Island is home to many ultra-wealthy white communities such as The Hamptons, which have have often supported these attacks on Shinnecock sovereignty.

At the heart of this battle is a 300-year old land dispute over the territory known as Shinnecock Hills, which was Shinnecock territory for thousands of years before a pair of dubious transactions in 1703 and 1859 separated that territory from the tribe. In 1885, a dozen Shinnecock people signed an affidavit claiming that the signatures on the transaction were a forgery. Today, New York state continues its obstruction and sabotage of Shinnecock sovereignty in a lawsuit that aims to stop Shinnecock’s efforts at economic development on this contested land.

“Warriors of the Sunrise” set up occupation camp

To fight back against the lawsuit, and the ongoing economic warfare perpetuated by the state, Shinnecock and allies had cleared a space of forest to set up an occupation in protest for almost the entire month of November. From Nov. 1 to 26, various allied organizations supporting decolonization and Indigenous sovereignty assisted in this effort. The Party for Socialism and Liberation, Cooperation Long Island, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Red Nation and Democratic Socialists of America are just some of the many groups that came together to fight back alongside the Warriors of the Sunrise.

Flag of the American Indian Movement. Liberation Photo.

The fire pit was kept going at all hours of the day and night. The occupiers, who varied during the week but were numbered at around 13, divided up shifts to sustain the fire and to manage the kitchen during the daytime. Signs were posted up detailing the areas of the site, and lights were hung along the branches to light up during the night. Events were held regularly, like a showing of the documentary Conscience Point, which covers the history of struggle between the Shinnecock Nation and elites in the Hamptons.

The fight isn’t over, and the Warriors of the Sunrise as well as the coalition of groups aligned with them are ready to continue the battle.Organizers with the Shinnecock Nation ask supporters to contribute to their COVID-19 relief fund as they look to make it through the winter and continue the fight. 

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