Shinnecock Voices: White Man to the Rescue!

Shinnecock Nation members and friends gather to honor remains found at a development on the tribe's sacred Sugar Loaf Hill burial grounds
Shinnecock Nation members and friends gather to honor remains found at a development on the tribe’s sacred Sugar Loaf Hill burial grounds
Bryan Downey

While various media outlets, both print and online, tout the victory of the Shinnecock on the return of their sacred site known as Sugar Loaf Hill, none more than The Southampton Press came close to exposing the reality of the situation: that the transaction is still just on paper in a paper game, and the papers are still in the hands of the white men.

And the Indians? The ones for whom this paper trail has been created?

Well, if you take the coverage in the Press (see the August 29, 2021 issue) to heart, we are very photogenic people who are mere window dressing to the continuing Roger Waters/Pink Floyd story.

I want to state here that Mr. Waters is a really nice guy. He has a genuine heart, a quick intelligence and wit, and firmly believes in his politics, his truths. He has been consistent in his views over the years, using his talents to express them and share them, and his “bulls—ometer” is fine-tuned from all of his travels and exposures around the world. He has been a true and real help to the Shinnecock Nation. From the start of his acquaintance with Shinnecock and our land issues, he has offered his help, and when called for, put his money where his mouth is. Roger Waters is on the right side of history in this. On our side. And it makes sense for him to use his well-earned fame to speak on, and give informed interviews about, the issues of land return and preservation that the Shinnecock have fought to correct for generations. In the world of celebrity worship, the opportunity to get up close and personal with a Roger Waters-status celeb is irresistible to reporters, no matter the subject matter.

However, he is not the first or only nice guy, famous rocker to pick up on Native issues and help to carry them to national attention. And as always, the reporter/media focused on the celebrity, leaving the central issue to take a back seat to the buzz created with the celebrity presence. Generally speaking, though, the famous person does not intentionally take center stage above the issue. Rather he or she is thrust there by ones who make their living selling headlines. And nowhere is name dropping to impress more prevalent, than here in the Hamptons.

And so, from the POV of the celebrity, Roger Waters, through an interview with a reporter, the readers of The Southampton Press are presented with the story of Sugar Loaf. A story presented as a victory for the Shinnecock, who have indeed worked hard for many years to wrest this sacred site from the greedy grasp of real estate developers. But it is not a complete story by any means.

Where is Munguntucksee, where are his remains?
We know that you disturbed his grave
So, what is it you gained?
To build that house on sacred ground
You’ve taken out his bones.
Where is Munguntucksee?
Its time he came back home. (mt2017)

The almost, sorta, kinda, maybe one day, return of Sugar Loaf Hill to the Shinnecock.

“White man speaks with forked tongue,” is an expression that means two things come out of his mouth at the same time. Speaking a duality of lies, but never the truth.

“Return to the Shinnecock” implies a generosity that doesn’t really exist. Returning the paper title to original land-owners is not returning land, it is relinquishing a claim to that land without conditions.

This is not the case with Sugar Loaf Hill.

The tricky treaty language rises up out of the cacophony of words praising the goodness of the Town of Southampton in the part they played in this “historic” land return.

The tricky participation by the Town of Southampton includes their delaying tactics from the time they voted to use CPF money to purchase the property.

The tricky treaty language says, “waive our Shinnecock sovereign immunity,” before the transfer of title to the Nation, to ensure the Town’s jurisdiction stays in place. It says, “the Town holds easement rights,” that would allow public access to the site, ie: hiking trails.

Return of Indian lands to the original landowners shouldn’t come with caveats. Attempting to keep any type of hold on the property nullifies the statement “return to Shinnecock.”

This “return” was negotiated between four white men. white man no.1 held the title until white man no.2 paid to hold the title, with money provided by white man no.3, the payment augmented by yet another white man, no.4.

Shinnecock is nowhere in the equation. We are only mentioned in the context of “… one of their most sacred burial grounds.”

Beware the tricky treaty language! White man speaks with forked tongue because their language is structured that way!

The conditional nature of this “historic land return” guarantees time for the Town and Peconic Land Trust to discuss among themselves ways to devise new hurdles for the Nation in actually holding/owning the paper title by effectively moving the goalposts. This transaction could go on for years beyond the two promised, all the while milking the publicity and kudos received from those who only see the surface. Those who are only shown the surface.

This story will go on and on, and yet it is only one story of many. The truth is, the entirety of the Town of Southampton exists on stolen land. From border to border, all land titles are suspect.

Burial grounds and living grounds.

Since 1640, it has been the responsibility of the Town of Southampton to oversee the growth and progress of its township, and since 1640, the Town has dealt nefariously with the Indigenous Shinnecock, trying to get them to relinquish lands to the ever-growing white population.

Three hundred and eighty one years is long enough.

When The Southampton Press headline reads “Sugar Loaf Hill Returned to the Shinnecock Nation, No Strings Attached!” and the photo below the headline shows the town supervisor in front of Southampton Town Hall, handing the land’s legal deed over to the Nation representative — that is when I will celebrate our Shinnecock victory.

And not one minute before.

“Shinnecock Voices” is a monthly column in which citizens of the Shinnecock Nation share stories and opinions, discuss the projects and campaigns they’re efforting, and allows readers an inside view into their incredible community.

Margo Thunderbird, Shinnecock Nation Tribal Member, American Indian Movement, Warriors of the Sunrise
Margo Thunderbird, Shinnecock Nation Tribal Member, American Indian Movement, Warriors of the SunriseBryan Downey

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