As an enrolled member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, it is incredible to look back at our history in photographs and our resilience and hope for the future. Being so close to the point of first contact and early European colonization, we have survived famines, epidemics, forced migration, forced assimilation, boarding schools, erasure — and yet despite all of this, we (as well as many Indigenous groups) still need to remind our neighbors and the world that “We Are Still Here.”
— Jeremy Dennis, Curator
The Shinnecock Indian Nation is one of the oldest self-governing tribes in the State of New York and was formally recognized by the United States federal government as the 565th federally recognized tribe on October 1, 2010. In their Algonquian language, the Shinnecock roughly name translates into English as “people of the stony shore.” Today, there are over 1,500 enrolled tribal members, and about half of the Shinnecock membership live on the Reservation at Shinnecock Neck.
Present-day Shinnecock tribal members can claim their lineage to their ancestral landscapes for more than 10,000 years. Still, by 1884, Southampton residents had decided that Shinnecock people were destined to die off. European colonists perpetrated a vanishing race narrative to demolish this sovereignty of Shinnecock and other Tribal Nations to claim valuable lands that they hoped would soon free up. Shinnecock artist Denise Silva-Dennis wrote about her work, “Why tenacious? Because against all odds, the Shinnecock people have managed to hold onto 800 acres of ancestral territory since the 1640 English Immigrant invasion that started at Conscience Point. That’s 382 years.”
Land theft was a reality that the Shinnecock Nation endured. In 1859, the Shinnecock hills had been stolen through bribery, forgery, and deceit. Despite an immediate resistance and uproar and years of clear evidence of the seizure, the land in question still belongs to Southampton town.
In the 1980s, a formal attempt to regain this sacred landscape began. Shinnecock was assured that with Federal Recognition, Federal courts would back the Shinnecock Nation with recovering their land. Despite successfully gaining Federal Recognition in 2010, Shinnecock is still awaiting a New York State governor who will reconcile this history of land theft.
Investigations Shinnecock’s past during this 30-year process to build a “Historical Overview and Historical Indian Tribe” report, looking at documents dating to first contact in 1640. This effort made Shinnecock’s continued presence and long lineage available to the public and created new connections within the Shinnecock Nation through family lineages and shared history. Traditionally, Shinnecock people have always maintained a solid connection to the past through the memories and stories of their ancestors and the long relationship to their ancestral lands. Among these passed-on traditions is the Nunnowa feast in the Fall (often described as Indigenous Thanksgiving for Shinnecock people), June Meeting Celebration, the annual Shinnecock Labor Day Weekend Powwow.
As Shinnecock Nation looks forward toward a hopeful future, there is also so much to celebrate and acknowledge in its past. To prepare for that future, we must learn from our collective story and gather insight to move forward. Shinnecock, after all, can make a claim to one of the longest ongoing presence on our homelands which if nothing else, is a source of pride.
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