…a forum for the discussion of political, social and economic issues affecting the indigenous peoples of the United States, including their lack of political representation, economic deprivation, health care issues, and the on-going struggle for preservation of identity and cultural history
After a legal struggle that has lasted more than three decades the Shinnecock Indian Nation, whose aboriginal homeland is in Long Island, N.Y., has received federal recognition. Their current petition for federal recognition was filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1999. The tribe has 1,292 enrolled members and an 800-acre reservation in Southampton. With tribal recognition, the tribe can build a casino, though tribal leaders indicate that this is a secondary consideration at the present time. I would like to use this event to describe the process of obtaining federal recognition.
The Supreme Court has interpreted the reference to Indian tribes in the Constitution to mean that tribes are “domestic dependent nations” and as such they have limited sovereignty and a special relationship with the federal government. However, not all Indian tribes in the United States have this special relationship: some tribes have federal recognition, and some do not.
During the Treaty Era of 1776 to 1871, the United States negotiated many different treaties with Indian nations. Many of the recognized tribes today have recognition because they signed a treaty with the United States. In theory, signing a treaty with the United States is an indication that the federal government has recognizes the tribe. On the other hand, there are a number of tribes which have federal recognition which have never signed a treaty. In other words, having federal recognition is not necessarily a straight-forward thing.
For those Indian tribes without federal recognition, federal recognition can currently be obtained in one of three ways: (1) take action in court to force the United States to recognize its trust responsibilities, (2) apply to Congress, or (3) follow a process established by the Department of the Interior. The Shinnecock obtained their recognition by going through the Department of the Interior recognition process. This is a process which is long, costly, political, and has resulted in relatively few recognitions. Testifying before Congress in 1992 regarding the Federal Acknowledge Project, Sioux scholar Vine Deloria said:
“The current FAP shows no sign of intelligence whatsoever; it is certainly unjust to require these Indian nations to perform documentary acrobatics for a slothful bureaucracy”
In 1994, the Bureau of Indian Affairs revised its regulations regarding the federal recognition of Indian tribes. The new rules require groups to show that they have been identified as Indian only since 1900 which reduced the burden of proof which the tribes are required to present. In addition, groups have to prove their existence since the last clear and unambiguous acknowledgment of their people in treaties or administrative actions. The new rules are intended to streamline the recognition process.
In order for an unrecognized tribe to obtain federal recognition the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has established several basic criteria which the tribe must meet. First, the tribe must show that it has been identified as an Indian tribe historically and continuously. The Shinnecock reservation pre-dates the establishment of the United States: it was formally created and recognized in 1666.
One of the difficulties in establishing this history for some tribes deals with confusion over names. Historical documents may contain references to the tribe under several different names.
Under the BIA criteria, a substantial portion of the group must live in a community identified as an Indian community, distinct from other communities. Its members must be descendants of an Indian tribe that historically inhabited the area. This means, in part, that the tribal members must not have participated in the rural-urban migration which has characterized much of the American population during the past century. Among the Shinnecock, more than half of their members do not live in the area.
The tribe must show that it has maintained historical and continuous tribal political influence over its members. In addition, the tribe must furnish a copy of the tribe’s current governing document. In other words, while the BIA guidelines require the tribe to be “traditional” in some ways, when it comes to government it must conform to modern concepts. Traditionally, Indian tribes did not have written constitutions and bylaws.
The tribe must have a membership list of people who can establish descent from a tribe which existed historically. While this is a genealogical list, it has an underlying racial component of “blood quantum.” Tribal members cannot be members of another Indian tribe. While it is possible today to have dual citizenship, this is not a freedom allowed for Indian nations.
The tribe must not be subject to congressional legislation that has terminated or forbidden the federal relationship. During the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government terminated a number of tribes and for these tribes to regain their federal recognition they must apply to Congress.
In lower Manhattan, on what will now be known as Native American Heritage Day, November 27, 2009, in front of the Museum of the American Indian, a historical event centuries in the making occurred as the Collegiate Church, formerly known as the Dutch Reformed Church, apologized to three of the four Lenape tribes left – NJ The Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians, the Oklahoma Delaware, and the Lenape of Ontario, Canada, the Munsee.
The irony is that the very same NJ tribe that the Collegiate Church apologized to, and the one recognized by the State Department of the Federal Government and the Obama Administration, is the very same one that the State of NJ and its Commission on Indian Affairs REFUSES to recognize as indigenous and is attempting to write OUT of history. History 400 years in the making was taking place in lower Manhattan while a few miles west across the Hudson, 12,000 years of history was being systematically, ruthlessly, maliciously erased.
The NJ Commission on American Indian Affairs needs to do some explaining. The Chair of the NJ Commission is a Ramapough, who are Tuscarora in origin, with Cherokee and Lenape having married into the tribe. Also represented on the NJ Commission are the Nanticoke, who are from what is now the state of Delaware, who arrived here in the 1970’s and the Powhatan, from Virginia, also new (1970s) arrivals. Conspicuous by their absence from the NJ Commission are the two oldest tribes in NJ, the Lenape – who are revered in song and story from one end of the state to the other because they were the original inhabitants of NJ going back 12,000 years, and the Cherokee tribe here since 1830, whose relatives walked the Trail of Tears. These two tribes have been ignored and lied to by the very Commission which is supposed to represent them. The Chiefs of both tribes have been requesting since the Commission was formed a decade ago, to be represented. Even the Governor has refused their request. This is what has prompted the Sand Hill Band to file a lawsuit in February which Judge Haden appears to have allegedly stalled in Federal District Court in Newark to this day.
One of the members of the Church happened to be a Ramapough Indian and was a speaker. However, because the Ramapough had been invited to attend, the last remaining Lenape tribe left on Long Island – the Shinnecock – refused to come to the event. The reason being was that they do not consider the Ramapough a Lenape Tribe. To understand how large the rift is now between the last Lenape tribes here and the Ramapough, consider that the Shinnecock did not want to give the current Ramapough even the appearance of legitimacy as a Lenape tribe. The difference between the two is as different as Italy is from Russia. The Lenape are Algonquin while the Tuscarora are Iroquois. Different customs, different language, different culture. Over the years Cherokee and Lenape married into the Ramapough tribe as did the Dutch, but the fact that the Ramapough are passing themselves off as a Lenape “nation”, is quite offensive to the last true Lenape tribes left in NY and NJ. The Shinnacock would not bear the insult.
It is ironic that a chosen few of the Ramapough would attempt to prevent any recognition whatsoever of the Lenape grandfather tribe in NJ, while passing themselves off as a Lenape “nation”, and again, quite offensive. The fact that the State of NJ allegedly is going along with the charade is beyond the pale as well as costing the taxpayers over 25 million dollars to date.
And so, while history was being made in NYC, just across the river in NJ, history was being undone, erased, and a revisionist history being jammed into place to benefit a few, unscrupulous folks who appear to be allegedly committing identity theft on a huge scale. They are even using the internet to wage their misinformation campaign. Wikipedia has even been changed to leave out the Sand Hill altogether and erroneously states that NJ has three recognized tribes – which, according to Governor Corzine, it doesn’t.
We arrived by ferry and walked to the Bowling Green in front of the old Customs House which now houses the Museum of the American Indian. The sky was gray and the wind was picking up, but thankfully the rain held off. The covered stage was set up in the plaza with a huge color backdrop of what Manhattan had looked like before the Dutch came. It had been a beautiful sea of green forest with a few small smoke plumes from Lenape villages visible. It was truly beautiful. The name of the event was “Healing Turtle Island”, which is what the Lenape called the land. Facing the stage were 200 folding white chairs that would seat the families of the Church members and the Tribal Chiefs and elders.
Despite the absence of the Shinnecock, it was a happy reunion for many of the participants. Chief Darius J. TwoBears Ross of the Ani~Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band – a cousin tribe and ally to the Sand Hills, arrived with his tribal members, elders and family. In attendance was ShadowWalker, Red Chief of the Ani~Tsalagi, tribal elder Ed TwoBears Peart and his family and Tribal Elder Diane BlueSkyLenapeWoman Crawford, who was a Ramapough and who is now a member of the Ani~Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band.
Then the Sand Hill members started to arrive. I met Principal Chief MedicineCrow Holloway and his family including his son, Chairman Ron Yonaguska Holloway, who would give the keynote address. Arleen Richards, great granddaughter of Chief Crummel of the Sand Hill was also present with her family. There was also tribal elder Yvonne Dennis, the children’s book author, Also in attendance were two Delaware tribal representatives who came all the way from Bartesville, Oklahoma, Curtis Zingha, and Carmen McKosato Ketcher, as well as Lenape from Ontario Canada, The Munsee.
It was a virtual who’s who of NJ’s Lenape and Cherokee tribal elders and chiefs. It was wonderful to see them all in one place. There were smiles and hugs all around. These were the first contact Lenape Nations (The Sand Hills, The Delaware from OK, The Munsee from Canada) who had suffered the most from the discovery of the New World. The speeches by the Oklahoma Delaware and the Sand Hill about forgiveness would be the most emotional and touching of all the addresses at the event.
To the curiosity of many, Dwayne Perry, CEO of the Ramapough, was also in attendance. Recently the Court had ruled that the Ramapough are no longer a tribe but simply a non profit 501.c3. They must have their election this coming June and it will be closely monitored. Allegedly, days before the last election, when Perry was named Chief, nearly 25 families were kicked out of the Ramapough tribe and not allowed to vote until two weeks AFTER the election when they were re-instated. It reminded me of a BCDO election under Joe Ferriero. The very sad part of the whole Ramapough story, is that there are Lenape members of this “Tuscarora” tribe and they are related to the Sand Hill.
At 11 am, the event began. The drum circle included half a dozen tribal members singing in strong, clear voices while striking a single large drum with large sticks, buffered by soft cloth at the ends. The strength and power of the vocals struck me. It was mesmerizing and incredibly stirring.
The blessing came first, then a description of what Manahatta was like before Henry Hudson arrived. The Church members described their role in the settling of New Amsterdam, and why we were here this day. The Church representative publicly apologized for their painful role in the exploitation of the resources of this new world and the resultant displacement and suffering of the Lenape people.
Chairman Ronald Yonaguska Holloway accepted the apology on behalf of the Lenape in an eloquent speech that ended with a promise of hope for the future. Rev. Chase, a descendent of the very first Dutch child born here in the New World, then embraced Ron Holloway, the son of the current Principal Chief of the Sand Hill, in a symbolic gesture of forgiveness.
The representatives of the Bartesville Oklahoma Delaware followed, explaining that the Lenape thought that no one could own land – it would be like owning the wind – recounted how the misunderstandings began. The Lenape from Oklahoma then spoke of forgiveness and how it was freeing. In a symbolic gesture of peace, they brought the Church elders wampum beads that recorded this event. The son of the Oklahoma Delaware representative and the daughter of a Church elder then exchanged necklaces in a show of harmony for the future.
Chief MedicineCrow Holloway of the Sand Hill and his son, Chairman Ron Yonaguska Holloway played a haunting flute and drum piece written especially for the occasion by Chief Holloway, a gifted, critically acclaimed musician. The haunting melody evoked the spiritual feeling of the day, sorrowful remembrance, but beauty as well. The softness and clarity of a message waiting to be heard by those of us willing to finally listen. Elegant in its simplicity.
The theme spoken of again and again was the future and where to go from here. We have changed each other forever, but while the Church admitted to regrettably imposing their will on their “brothers and sisters”, they called now for learning FROM the Lenape on how to live sustainably and care for Creation. Creation was a repeated idea throughout the day. It is the central idea that both the Church and the Lenape have most in common. The Lenape creation story of the land being created from the back of a turtle was invoked. Creation should be the common ground going forward. How we protect and cherish our natural world and each other.
Outside in the windy day, with the Hudson’s waters lapping against the shoreline nearby, the grey sky showing nature’s power over us, it somehow made sense that this event was not held indoors. The Lenape have always revered the earth, and perhaps that is what held the rain back that day. The sun broke through at the end of the event while the public and the elders of the Church and the tribes shared steaming cups of bison chili with cornbread. Yvonne Dennis shared her books with crowd eager to learn more about Native Americans. The drum circle that had begun the day’s events played on as we all shared in the meal together and got to all know each other better.
Somehow I could imagine the Creator up there, smiling.
For a Timeline of the Sand Hill saga, here is my Blue Jersey diary:
What you all can do: There are bills stalled in Committee in the NJ legislature right now that would rectify this travesty of justice by giving seats on the NJ Commission on American Indian Affairs to Reps of the Sand Hill Band and the Ani Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band. CALL and WRITE to your representatives and tell them to support Senator Loretta Weinberg’s bill.