Shinnecock Nation is No. 565

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – After 32-and-a-half years on the BIA waiting list, countless lawsuits, numerous steps forward followed by an equal or greater number of steps back, the Shinnecock Indian Nation took its place as the 565th federally acknowledged American Indian tribe in a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States government in 2010.

The BIA acknowledged the Shinnecock Indian Nation in a Final Determination in June.

Time to celebrate, right? Wrong.

During the 30-day comment period following the decision, a group called the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs and a faction of the Montauk Indians of Long Island filed 11th hour challenges, asking the Interior Board of Indian Appeals to reconsider the decision.

But on Oct. 1, the IBIA rejected the appeals, ruling that neither group had legal standing to appeal.

“This closes a chapter in the tribe’s 32 year long struggle to obtain recognition and opens a door to a bright future that will include new opportunities,” said Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Board of Trustees.

“We’re finally here,” said Lance Gumbs, Shinnecock senior trustee and vice president of the National Congress of American Indians northeastern region.

Of all the federally acknowledged nations, Shinnecock holds the dubious title of the nation that remained longest on the BIA’s list of petitioners. Numerous other nations have petitioned and been recognized since Shinnecock first filed its letter of intent to seek federal status.

That was in 1978 when Shinnecock was among the first Indian nations to file for federal acknowledgment under what were then the BIA’s newly established seven mandatory criteria.

The tribe was No. 4 on the petitioners’ list to be reviewed for federal recognition back then. By 2007, after a series of legal roadblocks, anti-casino opposition from some of the local rich and famous homeowners with political clout in New York state, and the mysterious retrograde action of an Office of Federal Acknowledgement that was perennially understaffed and underfunded, the Shinnecocks had actually moved back to No. 9 on the “active ready-and-waiting” list and were told that eight other petitions would be considered before theirs.

That didn’t happen, but the nation had to file a lawsuit in order to expedite the Final Determination. In 2005, a federal judge bypassed the BIA recognition process and ruled that the state-recognized Shinnecock Indians are indeed a federal tribe.

But Interior refused to accept the judge’s ruling and insisted that the tribe had to go through the OFA process. The tribe sued Interior based on the Tribe List Act of 1994, which says a tribe can be recognized by the BIA, through an act of Congress or through a district court.

The lawsuit resulted in a negotiated settlement with Interior in the spring of 2009 in which the court set a schedule for the BIA to follow in reviewing the nation’s petition for federal acknowledgment.

Shinnecock may be the first Indian nation to open a casino in the lucrative New York area. While the tribe has pursued the idea of locating a casino in a more populated area away from its state-recognized lands on Long Island, a Supreme Court decision in 2009 has cast uncertainty in the current federal laws regarding trust land for tribes recognized after 1934. The Shinnecock Nation may find that the path of least resistance will be to open a casino on its recognized lands amidst the wealthy homeowners of the Hamptons.