Join the national fight for beach access
On July 9, members and allies of the Shinnecock Nation will gather at Coopers Beach to protest. The Shinnecock Nation resides on the same territory as our ancestors and lived there thousands of years before us. Despite this fact, any tribesman who lives on the reservation would have to pay the $400 that non-residents must pay to access the beach for the season. The perimeter of the village that grants free access to the beach conveniently ends before the start of the reservation territory. Although the Shinnecocks have resided here since time immemorial, respect has rarely been given for where we reside.
Southampton Village was founded in 1640 and incorporated in 1894. While both periods marked the beginning of a period of growth for the village, they were periods of great loss for the Shinnecock Nation. It is a loss whose impact still reverberates through the tribe today.
To understand where we are, it is important to understand the historical context that has brought us to this point. Long before mansions lined Billionaires’ Lane, the island’s earliest inhabitants already had summer beach houses that dotted the south shore. Clans and bands moved from side to side with a gentle understanding of whose territory was. This quiet relationship to the land was abruptly interrupted with the arrival of two separate groups who colonized Long Island.
The Earl of Stirling was granted a patent and given the island to King Charles I of England in 1636, becoming the first owner of the island. He represented one faction of the colonization of the island, while the Walloons represented the other. Misquoted as Dutch, the Walloons were a subset of the religious minority who fled persecution from a Catholic-controlled Belgium. Many found refuge in the Netherlands and enthusiastically joined voyages to the New World, departing from Holland to Long Island, Manhattan, the Hudson River Valley and other parts of New York.
The distinction between these two cultures is key because, while neither demographic group viewed the native population as equals, efforts were made by New Holland registries to form legal acts with the native population. Often these transactions took place with tribal members who were not equipped to surrender the land. However, these strategies contrasted sharply with those of the Earl of Stirling, whose tactic was to completely reject any claims from the native or Dutch communities who lived on the island.
The Earl approached lands already settled by the Dutch or Aboriginals and claimed them in the name of King Charles I. He convinced British investment bankers in Lynn, Massachusetts that property on the island was most desirable, despite tracts of land. being underdeveloped. Those who bought land in the East End did not do so for religious freedoms but rather for investment opportunities.
While Dutch and Walloon settlers attempted to maintain a less intrusive relationship with the native population, the same cannot be said of their rulers. The terrible leadership of New Netherland director Willem Kieft resulted in a war against the Lenape and Wappinger that was so brutal that the Dutch and Walloon population fled in disgust from the massacres of the Indian population.
Peter Stuyvesant, who was governor of New Netherlands when the city fell, was tipped off by a female sachem of the Shinnecock Quashawam of the planned attack by the British. His superiority complex made him fire her. If he had listened to her, instead of calling her a screaming squaw, the fate of the Big Apple might have turned out differently.
Narratives of colonial history have often been one-sided. The Indigenous perspective has often been omitted, but when added to the canvas, it paints a much fuller picture of the stories that were told. If we describe the early settlers of Southampton as English Puritans instead of investors seeking to invest in the New World, we have a different connotation of their intentions. Likewise, when the village was incorporated in 1894, its incorporation may have been through nefarious means.
With the boom of the Industrial Revolution, wealthy New Yorkers sought an escape from the city and found the answer they were looking for in the East End. However, a lease finalized by the English and the Shinnecocks in the early 18th century gave the Shinnecock a 1,000-year lease on 3,600 acres in Southampton and prevented further non-native expansion.
After so much land was taken from native peoples through dubious means, the Non-Sex Act passed by Congress attempted to regulate these sales through more formal means. The act made it illegal to transfer Indigenous lands without federal government approval. When New York’s wealthy class saw this standoff, they asked the tribe if they were willing to sell the land. The tribe refused.
Undeterred, the bankers spearheading this initiative went to Shinnecock’s graves and wrote the names of our dead on a forged record. They presented this to the New York Legislature, which then granted the city the rights to the Shinnecock lands. However, under the Non-Intercourse Act, such dealings were illegal.
New York law had no authority to enter into such a bargain. Yet the deal was made and the Shinnecocks reside in the territory resulting from that transaction. We fought and were denied every moment. When we say Southampton is on stolen land it is not hyperbole.
Today, 168 years after the Non-Intercourse Act was amended in 1834, the Nation that remained continues to fight for the land and waters we have always been stewards of. Join the Shinnecock Nation on July 9 at Coopers Beach at 268 Meadow Lane at noon to allow Shinnecock members access to village beaches. After the caustic and racist tactics that brought us here, access to village beaches is the bare minimum that can be done to begin a long overdue healing process.
Andrina Smith is a storyteller, writer and performer whose work frequently explores race and ways to increase the representation of Shinnecock. She currently spends her time between Brooklyn and Southampton.
“Shinnecock Voices” is a monthly column in which citizens of the Shinnecock Nation share stories and opinions, discuss the projects and campaigns they are working on, and allow readers an inside look at their incredible comcommunity.