History & Culture Religion & Church

An Ancient History and Culture

The Shinnecock Nation is a federally recognized Indian Nation, located on the East End of Long Island adjacent to the Town of Southampton. Federal recognition was achieved October 1, 2010, after thousands of years of documented history on Long Island, and 32 years of struggle with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the 565th federal tribe, our banner has taken its place among other tribal flags at the U.S. Department of the Interior, BIA, Hall of Flags, Washington, D.C.

Since the beginning, Shinnecock time has been measured in moons and seasons, and the daily lives of our people revolved around the land and the waters surrounding it. Our earliest history was oral, passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, and as far back as our collective memory can reach, we are an Algonquian people who have forever lived along the shores of Eastern Long Island.

Scientists say we came here on caribou hunts when the land was covered with ice. But our creation story says we were born here; that we are the human children of the goddess who descended from the sky. It was she, the story goes, who caused the land to form beneath her feet from the back of Great Turtle, Deer to spring forth from her fingertips, Bear to roar into awakening, Wolf to prowl on the first hunt. It was she who filled the sky with birds, made the land to blossom and the ponds and bays to fill with fish and mollusks. And when all was done, the Shinnecock, the People of the Stony Shore, appeared in this lush terrain. We are still here.

As coastal dwellers, we continue to prize the bounty of the sea, the shellfish, the scaly fish, which for thousands of years provided the bulk of our diet. We were whalers, challenging the mighty Atlantic from our dugout canoes long before the arrival of the big ships, long before the whaling industry flourished in the 19th century.

In the 1700's, we became noted among the northeastern coastal tribes for our fine beads made from the Northern quahog clam and whelk shells (wampum).

Traditionally, decisions concerning the welfare of the tribe were made by consensus of adult male members. Seeking to shortcut the consensus process in order to more easily facilitate the outright theft of Shinnecock Indian lands, the Town of Southampton devised a three member trustee system for the Shinnecock people. This system of tribal government was imposed by the New York State legislature in February of 1792. Since April 3, 1792, the Shinnecock Indians made an annual trek up to the Southampton Town Hall the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April to elect three tribal members to serve a one-year term as Trustees. That came to a halt in April of 2007, when the Shinnecock exercised their sovereign right as an ancient Indian Nation and returned to one of its basic Traditions: it bypassed the State and the Town and for the first time since 1792 held its leadership elections at home, where they will forever remain.

The Trustee system, however, did not then and does not now circumvent the consensus process, which still remains the governing process of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. Major decisions concerning the tribe are voted yea or nay by all eligible adult members, including women, who gained the right to vote in the mid-1990s. Also in that period, the Shinnecock Nation installed a Tribal Council, a 13 member body elected for two years terms. The Council is an advisory body to the Board of Trustees. In 2009, the Nation established a Council of Elders.

Today, we number over 1400 people, more than half of whom reside on the reservation. While our ancestral lands have dwindled over the centuries from a territory stretching at least from what is known today as the Town of Easthampton and westward to the eastern border of the Town of Brookhaven, we still hold on to a miniscule section of our original Ancestral lands.

Despite setbacks, we have managed to build a community to help us better meet the demands of an ever-expanding and intrusive world. In addition to the Shinnecock Presbyterian church building and its Manse, our infrastructure includes a tribal community center, a health and dental center, a family preservation and Indian education center, a museum, and playgrounds for our children.

At the present moment, our annual Powwow is the economic development project of record for the Shinnecock Nation. Revived in 1946 as a benefit for our church, the Powwow has evolved into an event that hosts thousands of visitors and that helps supports both our church and tribal budgets. But we are at the mercy of the weather. A rainy Labor Day Weekend means a difficult year ahead of us. We are now exploring Indian Gaming as a means of attaining the much needed self-sufficiency that will enable us to perform the sacred duties laid out for us by the Ancestors - to protect, manage and maintain the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

(BJ)