Bryan Polite is the chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and one of the its young standard bearers in the 21st century. With 10,000 years of history and heritage driving him to move the Shinnecock into the future, and some unique life experiences in his 38 years of life, Polite may be just the right person, at the right time, to ensure a brighter tomorrow for the nation.
Bryan was born of Shinnecock ethnicity in Huntsville, Alabama, and returned to the Shinnecock Territory as a youth. After attending Southampton High School, he attended John Jay College, where he secured a Bachelors of Arts in Criminal Justice. After college, he served in law enforcement, traveled the world some, and attended portions of Law School. His endeavors between then and now, though, were done with a purpose.
“I wanted to bring knowledge that I learned in my travels from around the world back to Shinnecock,” Polite says.
After working at his mother’s family business on Montauk Highway, he began to get involved in tribal politics, when he was elected as the age of 30. After a single term as the Council’s Trustee Secretary, he was elected chairman—among the nation’s youngest to ever hold the post.
With bright ideas, an embrace of the Shinnecock heritage, and a commitment to build foundation for the future of the nation, he has become one of the well-respected leaders in his community.
Throughout the past several years, Polite has led a more outward-facing approach to local affairs for the Shinnecock Nation. Prior to his election, there was a reluctance from his predecessors to engage with localities and other external entities—especially the media—fueled by a deep-seeded distrust.
“Many before me had a distrust for the media and those external to the nation, rooted in thousands of years of what I would call historical trauma,” he says. “There were mistruths spread about our tribal members, which is why there have been significantly different strategies to our public approach. Though, with the support of my predecessors, I have been committed to taking hold of our own story and ensuring that the narrative about the Shinnecock Nation is factually accurate. More simply put: the truth.”
Chairman Polite sees himself as the one who has been tasked with taking the baton from the previous generation and passing it forward better. As a millennial, born in 1982, Polite emphasizes the technological breakthroughs that have allowed the Nation to succeed in internal and external communication—the same tools that have allowed large corporations to excel during these uncertain times.
“Without forgetting the history of the nation, I think that we have done a great job of embracing technology and also extending a connection to those tribal members who do not live on our territory. We have embraced Zoom, email, and other contemporary communications platforms which have led us to see a boom of interest in our affairs.”
The Shinnecock Nation has two territories in the Town of Southampton, one referred to as “the neck,” which spans more than 900 acres, and one in Hampton Bays, which is about 100 acres of land.
Polite’s previous experience, he says, has helped the Council of Trustees and nation as a whole take a new role and project new vision for the Shinnecock—one of the many reasons his insight has been featured on national news outlets, most recently for a segment on CNBC.
“My plan was always to return to Shinnecock and bring new knowledge and world experience to the territory, and share this knowledge in a way that benefits the entire Nation,” says Chairman Polite. “I am fortunate to be able to work with a whole host of young adults that really are inspiring. We all learned from our parents and grandparents generation on what it means to be Shinnecock and the enormous responsibility of leadership.”
Chairman Polite has just been re-elected to his third, two-year term at the post of chairman. As far as we are aware, judging by his motivation, commitment, and dedication, his presence will continue to be felt at the Shinnecock Nation for years to come.