Jed Morey’s Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Shinnecock Nation

New York State Cigarette Tax Report

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Long Island Press Cover Image about Taxing the Indian Cigarette Trade

In a stunning revelation this week, the federal government has concluded the Shinnecock Indians are indeed Indians. The lightning pace at which they arrived at this determination can only mean we are days away from declaring independence from British rule and uniting the colonies!

This is not another column longing for the day when the United States comes to the realization federal recognition is a bogus, unilateral stamp of approval for a gaming license and has nothing to do with the qualifications of a group’s “Indianness.” It’s as ludicrous as it is insulting. It cannot, however, match the absurdly racist and discriminatory report authored by State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) and released the same week as the Shinnecock Nation celebrates the farcical honor of being told they actually exist.

The report issued by Johnson’s committee is the result of several months of testimony and supposed research into the issue of tax collection on Indian reservation territories within New York State. The fact the committee chose the one week everyone knew the Shinnecock Nation was to achieve, at the very least, a moral victory and celebrate its federal recognition offers keen insight into the scandalously insensitive nature of these lawmakers. While New York State is hamstrung by infighting and ineptitude and barely staving off a historic shutdown, this committee issues a report so rife with inconsistencies and backward logic that it could have taken minutes, not months, to produce.

The only thing that is clear is this speciously crafted report, replete with one-sided arguments, is intended to obfuscate the fact that The Empire State is the primary culprit in squandering enormous sums of potential revenue from cigarette taxes. By affixing his name to this report, Johnson is less of a patsy in this regard than he is a “cleaner”—much like Harvey Keitel’s “Wolf” character in Pulp Fiction, here brought in to clean up Albany’s mess.

Much of the text in the report is written in a decidedly patronizing tone that attempts to assuage the ultimate message to Indian tribes of New York: Pay up or face the consequences. The committee rationalizes this stance by ignoring the numbers given by its own tax department and instead recognizing the more advantageous figures given by people who stand to gain from legislation that would negatively impact the tribes. The testimony of the tribes was an exercise in futility as it is glaringly apparent this committee and the “powers that be” in Albany are determined to continue their centuries-old mission to ethnically cleanse Indians from New York through economic warfare.

Unfortunately, none of this is a surprise. What is utterly disheartening was the conclusion of the 20-page report. The final line of the report simply states: “The State should revoke its recognition of the Poospatuck Tribe.”

First of all, the tribe is Unkechaug. The reservation is Poospatuck. Second, not only is there no legal precedent for this ridiculous recommendation, there have been numerous opinions written by New York State itself declaring this idea (not the first attempt at this) unconstitutional.

This recommendation can only be classified in the following categories:

A)      Stupid
B)      Ignorant
C)      Racist
D)     All of the above

For those of you keeping score at home, the correct answer is “D.” Attempting to revoke the status of a nation that predates our own and eradicate an entire race is the type of Machtpolitik that should evoke terror in our society. We should bristle at this type of caustic political language that stokes the fire of hatred and intolerance. Instead, the headlines referring to Indians on Long Island revolve around speculation regarding the location of a Shinnecock casino now that the tribe is federally recognized.

Recently, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas made a similar remark recommending all Jews leave Palestine and return home to Germany, Poland, the United States, and “everywhere else.” Helen Thomas, at least, had the good sense to hang up her cleats after allowing us to peer into her cold, black soul. Hers was an epic lapse in judgment caught on video by a citizen journalist that went viral. Conversely, the recommendation Poospatuck be obliterated was carefully considered over a period of months and delivered as the kicker in an official government report. There is no apology that can mitigate what was written and every person on this committee has been revealed for what they truly are: bigots. Unlike Helen Thomas, however, I doubt any of them will have the decency to retire.

Shinnecock Recognition

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Shinnecock Block

The federal government of the United States of America has given preliminary approval to “recognize” the Shinnecock Nation on Long Island. This approval clears the way for full federal recognition sometime in the spring by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the governing body that oversees relations between the U.S. and the “recognized” Native American tribes within U.S. territory.

Various levels of federal assistance are available to those nations fortunate enough to be recognized by the U.S. government. The carrot dangled before native tribes in this country, of course, is the possibility of obtaining gaming licenses to operate casinos on tribal land or off-reservation land, which is typically held in trust by the government.  

All of the attention over the matter obscures the fact that the whole concept of “federal recognition” is perhaps the biggest sham our country has ever fabricated.

If the U.S. government only now recognizes the Shinnecock as a tribe, then what were they before? When their land was stolen and their people were stripped of their dignity, were they not worthy of our recognition?

New York State, Suffolk County and Southampton town officials have joined in the chorus of vultures from federal agencies peering over their spectacles on the downtrodden nation of Shinnecock, gazing at them with both sympathy and disdain, and have finally welcomed them into the perverse brotherhood of sovereign North American nations. It’s a hollow victory that is a matter of survival, not of pride.

While these grinning politicians break their arms patting themselves on the back, the poorest inhabitants in America have had to swallow deep and present themselves, hat in hand, with court documents, proof of lineage, and ancient land claims to beg the government for a fraction of what was always rightfully theirs. The Shinnecock have sought recognition through the federal system for 30 years and only now that New York State has fallen upon hard times has the path been cleared by the BIA. Frankly, I find it abhorrent in every way. Every statement released by elected officials in New York and on the Island centers around the gaming issue. Every one. If there was ever a doubt as to why this process moved up the line the answer has come pouring out of both sides of every politician’s mouth.

For its part, the BIA uses recognition as a weapon to bestow or withhold basic human and civil rights on a people who have endured 400 years of humiliation and genocide. Yet recognition is a double-edged sword for both the tribe and America. While basic benefits and economic opportunity exist within the promise of recognition, evil lurks beneath the surface. Tribes have a greater ability to present land claims but may also be required to hold certain lands in federal trust. And while they may receive the right to operate gaming facilities on, and sometimes off, native territory, they are often required to pay taxes on all tribal enterprises and open their books. The slippery slope of recognition under the guise of partnership gives the government a foothold in territories they wish they never relinquished to native people; a foothold that may someday prove as fatal to Native Americans as inviting the fox into the henhouse.

When carefully managed, the other edge of the sword brings prosperity that can restore pride and foster cultural awareness within and among the tribes. It also makes them formidable members at the bargaining table, which is at times a source of frustration for U.S. officials who aren’t used to Native Americans having the wherewithal to exert economic and political influence. A highly organized tribe with economic means and determination also possesses a long institutional memory that the U.S. government does not.

I hope the Shinnecock gain the full recognition they seek. Then I hope they build the biggest and most ostentatious casino on the planet right smack in the middle of Shinnecock territory. An edifice so big and so bright it keeps the neighbors up at night and catches errant golf balls from the nearby golf courses that sit on land that was stolen from the Shinnecock Nation years ago.

The Shinnecock know who they are. They always have. Our government simply looks stupid granting them what they, and everyone else, already knew.

Written by jmorey

December 17, 2009 at 7:20 pm