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Jun 27, 2017 10:10 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Montauketts Clear Hurdle On Path To Recognition, Now Await Governor's Signature

Jun 27, 2017 2:47 PM

The State Senate this week sent a bill to Governor Andrew Cuomo that grants official state recognition to the Montaukett Indian Nation, more than a century after a state court declared the tribe “extinct” while siding with a real estate developer over a land dispute in Montauk.

Mr. Cuomo still will have to sign the bill, which was approved unanimously by both the State Assembly and Senate, for it to become law. The governor vetoed a 2013 bill that set up a multi-step review process for the Montauketts to apply to restore the official recognition, citing burdensome hurdles for the state. The authors of the latest legislation say they are hopeful the governor will see the justice in skipping the process and directly restoring tribal status to the 1,500 documented members of the Montauketts.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said that the previous bill had tried to set up a system similar to that used by the federal government to trace and review the genealogical history of those claiming to be members of a certain Native American tribe. But it had required too much costly legwork by the state for the sake of determining a single tribe’s status, drawing the governor’s veto.

This time around, Mr. Thiele said, the legislators sought to eliminate the hoops that the Montauketts would have to jump through to prove that they are a tribe.

“The Montaukett Indian Nation is alive and thriving,” said Mr. Thiele, who sponsored the legislation with State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle. “I’m proud the state is finally correcting a grave injustice.”

The man who has long been the face and voice of those who still draw their lineage back to the native residents of Montauk, Robert Pharaoh of Sag Harbor, remains circumspect that this seemingly fell swoop will live up to its billing.

“I’m not going to hold my breath,” he said, comparing the long history of failed official efforts to “smoke and mirrors,” and recalling Mr. Cuomo’s veto of the previous bill. The pledges of politicians and lawyers, he said, mean little to him.

The governor may well not sign the bill for several months and Mr. Thiele said he would expect a thorough review of the bill before any action is taken, likely pushing the hoped-for signature into the autumn months.

Setting aside his doubts for a moment, Mr. Pharaoh added that if the governor were to sign the bill, and the tribe’s official status were to be restored, however scattered its people may now be, it would be a glorious day.

“The fact that we would finally be vindicated, that we would have a gross injustice rectified and our wholeness as a tribe back, our status back, to know it would make my ancestors very happy,” Mr. Pharaoh said. “That is, honestly, the only reason I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”

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