Make no mistake about it, the Shinnecock Nation’s decision to erect a pair of 60-foot “monuments,” which in reality are nothing more than electronic billboards, on either side of Route 27 just west of the Shinnecock Canal has certainly caught the attention of elected officials and townspeople alike.
Tribal leaders say the structures, which will have the tribal seal at the top, an illuminated advertisement in the center portion, and the time and temperature running along the lowest level, will provide a much needed source of revenue that will help it pull many of its members out of poverty.
But town officials and — judging by the comments on social media — many residents see the tribe’s decision to erect the signs as little more than an in-your-face effort to force an eyesore on the rest of the community.
In reality, both sides are right to a degree.
From the tribe’s perspective, it has seen its efforts to take advantage of its sovereign standing to raise the living standard of its members rebuffed, indirectly or directly, by town officials. Think back just a few years when the tribe stepped up efforts to obtain federal recognition so it could build a casino on land not far from where the signs are being constructed. Town government fought that effort tooth and nail. So why should the tribe be willing to listen to the town now and turn down an opportunity to cash in?
But people who will drive past or live near those signs are also right: They will be downright ugly. It’s hard for people to square the notion of Native Americans, who so often defend the sanctity of the environment, with the decision to so quickly despoil a wooded roadside.
Of course, if you asked a Shinnecock what they thought about the kind of development white settlers have brought to their homeland, you might get a similar reaction — and that includes the four-lane highway that runs right next to the signs.
In the end, given the town’s apparent lack of power to intervene and the state’s silence on the matter, it appears the signs are coming. While that’s a pity, so is so much of the environmental degradation newcomers have brought to this once beautiful strip of land.