Shinnecock Oyster Festival Revives Old Business Venture
Shinnecock Nation Environmental Department will host its inaugural Oyster Festival this Saturday October 7 on the Shinnecock Nation Powwow Grounds from 1 to 6 p.m.
The event will feature local craft vendors, live music performances by DK Dyson and Liza Coppola, and family friendly activities including archery and a bouncy house. However, the headliner of the day will be Shinnecock Bay oysters served raw on a half shell, grilled, po’ boy style and in a stew. Other traditional soups will be on hand for those who may not fancy shellfish, as well as hamburgers and hot dogs for the kids.
Shinnecock Nation Environmental Department has been seeding oysters since 2013, as part of the $3.75 million Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency grant the Nation was awarded to improve water quality and other effects of erosion.
However, decades before the existence of the Environmental Department, the Nation received a grant from the New York Community Trust in 1974 to replenish shellfish in Shinnecock Bay from overharvesting. The mission of the Oyster Project was to reseed Shinnecock Bay and make a tribal business off its harvest once the shellfish reached market size.
A hatchery was built, but without the guidance of a department committed to the effort, the Oyster Project underwent much turnover in leadership. The project waned and waxed over the decades, but due to inconsistent leadership and the impacts of overdevelopment and climate change on the shellfish industry in recent decades, the hatchery became dilapidated.
Now with the coastline repaired and thriving, the Environmental Department plans to revive the mission of the Nation’s original Oyster Project. The department has been seeding oysters for over two years, this time with the intention to bring Shinnecock harvested oysters to market for retail.
“Saturday’s Oyster Festival is all about showcasing our product to the public,” said Shavonne Smith, director of the Shinnecock Nation Environmental Department.
Smith went on to credit the individuals who worked diligently in the waters seeding and harvesting the oysters: Robert Eleazer, Yoteh Eleazer, Amar Gardener Jr., Isaiah Smith and Mila McKey. Smith and her team, all Shinnecock tribal citizens, carry on the legacy of our ancestors caring for the water and sea life that underpins the survival of our people.
In doing their work, they honor, respect and protect our way of life that we encourage our next generation of youth to uphold.
Saturday’s Oyster Festival may as well be considered a mini powwow of sorts, or a social, as we like to call it, for all of the Shinnecock culture that will be exhibited in the food, crafts and archery.
Admission to the event is free, but donations are greatly encouraged. While the next step is to demolish the old hatchery building and build a new state-of-the-art facility, ultimately the hope is that this new business venture will turn out to be the department’s main source of income so that it no longer has to exclusively rely on grants.
And who knows, maybe in addition, the East End can add another fun fall family festival to its annual lineup.
Dyáni Brown is a citizen of the Shinnecock Nation. She is a freelance writer, television and film entrepreneur, and communication and marketing specialist. To view her portfolio, visit about.me/dyanibrown.
“Shinnecock Voices” is a monthly column in which citizens of the Shinnecock Nation share stories and opinions and discuss the projects and campaigns they’re working on, to allow readers an inside view into their incredible community.