Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shinnecock Indian Nation Gets Federal Recognition

By Ken Davison
Feather News

After hearing the groundbreaking news yesterday that the Shinnecock Indian Nation was to become a federally recognized tribe, three days before they expected any decision, one tribal official said, “It’s three days early and 360 years late.”

The Shinnecock Tribe has an 800-acre reservation base in Southampton, N.Y., and its 1,300 members will become eligible for federal benefits such as housing and healthcare once a 30-day public comment period expires.

Tribal official Lance Gumbs said, “This is a reaffirmation of who we are as a people. They weren’t telling us we’re Indian. They’re reaffirming what we’ve always known.”

The Tribe filed a petition for federal recognition in 1979 in accordance with a new petitioning process set up by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. The three-decade long delay since the petition was filed was finally snapped by a federal court order that required a preliminary decision be made by December 2009 by the B.I.A.’s Office of Federal Acknowledgement.

Yesterday’s news affirms that preliminary December decision which acknowledged the Tribe’s federal recognition.

Federal recognition of Indian tribes cannot be mentioned these days without also speaking of a tribe’s prospects for a gambling den, the most profitable type of economic development available to every federally recognized tribe in the nation in some fashion except for the Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island which was specifically excluded from the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Tribal officials were silent yesterday on any casino plans even though they are working with a Michigan-based gaming company, Gateway Casino Resorts, and have been courted by developers for various casino sites on Long Island. The Shinnecock Tribe can now build a casino on their reservation in Southampton but will likely be receptive to other sites on Long Island. Politicians in the state will be receptive to an alternative location because they will not want the traffic problems that a casino would bring to Southampton, a town that is also home to some of the wealthiest people in America.

A key negotiating point in the Tribe’s favor is that its Southampton land claims could be worth as much as $1 billion and to get the Tribe to drop those claims may mean the state would have to give them table games and an off-reservation site of the Tribe’s choosing. And, yeah, land would be nice too.

Getting federal approval for an off-reservation casino may prove to be a stickier matter if the proposed site is deemed to far from the reservation or if the federal settlement legislation doesn't overcome the issues in a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision forbidding the Interior Department from taking land into trust for tribes federally recognized after 1934.

Since the Tribe can offer games that are legal elsewhere in the state that means the Tribe can have video lottery terminal-type slot machines but not table games unless state officials expressly allow table games in their gaming compact with the Tribe.

The possibility of a Shinnecock casino will undoubtedly affect the bidders for a V.L.T. slot parlor at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, N.Y. The New York City borough of Queens is located on the far eastern end of Long Island and a Shinnecock casino on Long Island would draw customers that would otherwise visit a slot parlor at the Aqueduct Racetrack.

A Shinnecock casino, especially if it has table games, would also draw some customers that now visit the two Indian casinos in Connecticut.