Shinnecock Celebrate Winter Festival Despite Setbacks

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country January 2011

The cold weather is just setting in on eastern Long Island. The Shinnecock Nation celebrated with a Winter Festival in mid-December in their large log museum with crafts, music, food and kids activities.

Despite having finally achieved Federal recognition, they still face some challenges. When a Native American tribe receives official recognition, it becomes eligible for aid that can help improve infrastructure and housing conditions on the reservation, as well as creating many jobs.

The Shinnecock Indian Nation, unfortunately, will have a long wait before they see any such benefits. Due to the timing of the announcement that the tribe had earned federal recognition—the final announcement on October 1 came after numerous delays, including an 11th-hour challenge from a group claiming to represent Connecticut casino employees —the tribe missed the opportunity to be added into the federal aid package in the 2011 budget.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs informed the tribe that budget cuts in the face of a growing federal deficit will leave the tribe out of the federal aid arena until 2012—and even then aid packages may be limited.

“We had a conference call with the BIA—it’s a grim outlook, economically,” Shinnecock Tribal Trustees chairman Randy King told the Southampton Press. “We’re working closely with them, but these are challenging economic times.”

The tribe’s casino plans will continue slowly, but that potential source of revenue is  many years down the road, so the loss of federal aid puts a big hold on many of the programs tribe members have been planning for years. There is also the matter of where to even build a casino, as it’s reservation lands are not big enough to hold a sprawling resort with a casino, entertainment venue, hotel, spa and the needed parking.

The tribe has more than a dozen committees working on programs that it hopes will one day become departments within a growing tribal government.

The museum, with its carved deer door, officially opened in June of 2001.  The first permanent exhibit, A Walk with the People, consists of murals painted by Shinnecock artist, David Bunn Martine. The murals depict the journey of the People from pre-historic times to the present. In July of 2003, the Estate of Fredrick DeMatteis generously donated 20 bronze sculptures of Native American figures, which became their second permanent exhibit, My Spirit Dances Forever.