About a dozen members and supporters of the Shinnecock Indian Nation — part of a group called the Shinnecock Hills Defenders — on Monday used the U.S. Open’s use of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club to bring awareness to their land claims fight.
The protest was organized to highlight the tribe’s ongoing dispute over land ownership in Southampton, including Shinnecock Hills and the golf course, which the group claims was unfairly taken from them, and the misuse of their image for the golf club’s logo.
Demonstrators — some wearing t-shirts featuring a skull with a tribal headdress and the words “U.S. Open Shinnecock Stolen Hills” — carried signs with slogans such as “Stolen land, stolen name, stolen image, silenced voices never!” and “We are the voices of our ancestors,” as motorists along Montauk Highway honked their horns in solidarity.
Attorney Kelly Dennis, an organizer of the event, said the golf club is one of the defendants named in the tribe’s land claim suit, on which the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to rule in 2016, and noted the tribe has never received compensation for the use of its image on the club’s logo.
“It’s an added insult that the golf club, local government, and other businesses led by the colonists’ families benefit from the U.S. Open and USGA when the Shinnecock Tribe is marginalized and left out of any meaningful recognition and economic development,” said Dennis in a designated “free speech” area located across the street at Stony Brook Southampton College.
“We are using this major event at the U.S. Open to exercise our free speech when Shinnecock people have been denied the legal right to exercise political and civil rights to obtain justice for the outstanding land claim that includes the Shinnecock Hills and many other issues not limited to grave protection, clean water, natural resources, fishing, hunting, racial injustices, and perpetuated stereotypes.”
Minerva Perez, executive director of Organizacion Latino-Americana, said she stood with the tribe and wanted to support the strength, history, and wisdom that the tribe brings to the area.
“I am here to counter the vicious and degrading remarks that are endured by the Shinnecock Nation, the moment there is a public conversation about their right to thrive, right to survive, right to exist. Latinos across this country are arguing for their own humanity. They are fighting for their right to exist. It is important they lend their voices in support of those indigenous of this land because they are the true founders.”
Noyac resident Tom Oleszczuk attended the protest with his wife, Heidi Rain, noting they have been very concerned about indigenous affairs since learning of the Sioux Tribe’s fight against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.
“We support the Shinnecock tribe,” he said.
United States Golf Association spokesman Craig Annis said that the organization has been in contact with Nichol Banks, an organizer of the protest and had facilitated the demonstrators’ location to exercise their right to freedom of speech.
He said it was officials’ understanding the protests are not about the U.S. Open or the USGA but rather “broader issues that they have been trying to bring awareness for quite some time.”
The tribe will continue to protest the tournament through its conclusion on Sunday.