'We can move forward together'

On the Indian Country Today newscast for Wednesday is Chairman Bryan Polite from the Shinnecock Nation and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, followed by Indian Country Today reporter Joaqlin Estus
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Patty Talahongva
Patty Talahongva

Executive Producer

The Hamptons on Long Island are known for their luxury homes and beautiful beaches, but before the first high-end houses were built there, the Shinnecock called the area home. When their loved ones died, they reserved the best and most scenic spots as their final resting place. 

Today, the Shinnecock have a small portion of their Indigenous homelands, and they’ve been fighting for decades to protect the graves of their ancestors. 

Their efforts have been met with a lot of pushback from the local communities, until this week. The Shinnecock Nation saw its neighboring community take steps to finally protect sacred burial grounds. 

On Wednesday's newscast, Chairman Bryan Polite and Jay Schneiderman explain what this vote means to the Shinnecock people.

Here are some comments from Jay Schneiderman:

“This really became very apparent when during construction activities, human remains were found, which we believe to be an ancestral burial area for the Shinnecock. And it really made it clear that we needed better rules and better laws in place to prevent further desecration of graves. And so this work with the tribal council and Chairman Polite, and we were able to craft what we think is landmark legislation that passed yesterday - two pieces, one that sets a clear series of steps you must take if you encounter human remains, but also to try to prevent the desecration of graves.”

“I understand the frustration. I understand the anger. This has been brewing for decades, if not centuries. The colonial history was not kind to the Shinnecock Nation. There were so many atrocities committed against their people. This is hopefully the beginning of a new era. You know, it's hard to erase the past, but we can move forward together.”

“I think this was more than just protecting these sacred sites. I think it was an acknowledgement of that history and the important role the Shinnecock had played in the local historical evolution, the town of Southampton. So it's a big moment and hopefully a turning point where we don't have to be at odds where we can actually work together for the mutual benefit of all people.”

Chairman Bryan Polite:

“One of the main components of what happened yesterday was basically a moratorium that was set in place to give the town of Southampton and the Shinnecock Nation, six months to come up with further legislation to protect a wider area of the Shinnecock Hills, which is known as our ancestral burial grounds.”

“We've had not just the tribes in the area, but again, the Graves Protection Warrior Society has reached out to multiple tribes throughout the country, so it was really a pretty big effort on that organization's part to really formulate or to recommend areas of the law that would really have teeth and actually be workable.”

“I realized this yesterday that about 15 years ago, the nation was going for federal recognition and the town of Southampton under obviously different leadership decided to go to court to fight against our federal recognition. They actually had their town historian argue against our federal recognition, although, it's clear to the town of Southampton, Shinnecock people, that there is no mistake that the Shinnecock people existed and are here.”

“So I think just that change in relationship between the town of Southampton to going from that adversarial relationship to today working on that legislation that actually is meaningful and actually addresses a long standing issue as a whole.”

Jay Schneiderman:

“First off, I'll say I was a county legislator at that time of that battle. And I've always supported federal recognition for the Shinnecock from the front of the first requests from when I was a County legislature. So I wasn't with the town at that point and always understood that the Shinnecock needed that federal recognition and deserve it.”

“It's really been a pleasure working with the tribal council to get to this point. And it's really long overdue. It should've happened a long time ago, but finally it happened.”

“I think it's really landmark legislation. I'd like to see other areas on Long Island adopt the same legislation. Until we see a state law, we ought to have a state law, but I think a Chairman Polite will be approaching some of the other municipalities and trying to get them to adopt similar legislation.

Chairman Bryan Polite:

“As the supervisor said at the beginning that we're only one of four States that doesn't have this legislation. I'm hoping that this could be a template for not just other towns in New York, but also for the New York state legislator to get this through and pass this because it's not only important for our people, it's important for the history of New York and it's important for everybody to respect the final resting place of the ancestors.”

“I just want to really thank the Southampton community members who came out in March with the Shinnecock Nation, everybody who signed the petition, the board for their diligence, the Shinnecock Indian Nation for holding vast on what they believe in, holding people accountable. And everybody out there, Indian country, who supported the Shinnecock Nation in this endeavor.”

“As other municipalities are trying to deal with getting back to some kind of sense of normality, what we're experiencing is the community members wanting to put a hold on that actually. We're not sending the kids back to in-person, we're doing virtual learning. We're trying to tell everybody, although we've done a good job, keeping the numbers down, we need to continue to be vigilant because what we're seeing around the country, not so much in New York but other places, is once people decide to let their guard down a little bit, you'll get a spike. And that's something that we've been trying to prevent.”

Joaqlin Estus:

“I would say there is no downside to voting by mail and everybody should do it because the downside to voting in person is getting COVID-19. So that's not to say that it's going to go without a hitch though. So there are states ... Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Utah, and Colorado who have been voting mostly by mail for years. And of course the military has been voting by mail forever. And they've found that there's minuscule fraud. There's a minuscule rate of rejection. And by minuscule, I mean, well below 1 percent.”

“So what's going to happen this year, is there's first of all, experts are expecting record turnout. We haven't seen this percentage of voters that they're expecting since the early 1900s. So about 145 million people are expected to cast ballots on November 3rd.”

“One of the things that can be a problem with voting by mail, the biggest one, is that the postmaster general of the US postal service sent a letter to 46 States. He was basically saying your regulations don't fit with the way we do things ... People are required to send their ballot in time for election officials to receive it by election day. So you might send it in a week early and on a route that would normally take one day, but because of the volume of mail, you still might miss election day. You still might miss that deadline. So what would have worked better is if people were required to postmark their ballot by election day and that way, you know exactly when it's happening. You can look back at that and you can say, ‘okay, I did it.’”

“Some of the other issues are that some States require two witnesses and or to get your ballot notarized. And with the two witnesses, the US postal service, not too long ago issued a new rule saying that US postal service employees cannot be one of those witnesses.”

“Another issue is when people sign their ballot, their signature might not match the signature that the state has on file. And so that, and generally it's not handwriting specialists who were making that decision. So that aside from the deadlines, I would say that there's just a whole bunch of other things. You have to use the envelope that they provide, you have to pay for postage and in some States, and especially on reservations, people don't have good internet access. So if you have to request a ballot by mail, that adds that other time element, the problem of getting it in time to get it signed and returned.”

“So with all those little glitches in the primary, some States they rejected as much as 50 percent of the ballots that were sent in. And for many of the reasons I just mentioned, they missed the deadline, signatures didn't match, whatever. And that was the case in New York and Georgia.”

“So what the Native American Rights Fund has said is, do not have only vote by mail because in on reservations, it might be an hour or two to even get to the post office. You don't have a street address because streets don't have names.”

“People still need polling stations.”

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