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The Mast-Head: Better Not Repeated

Wed, 03/04/2020 - 12:16

Is Michael Bloomberg is taking cues from the Trumpian style of public speaking? Departing from prepared remarks last Thursday, he briefly riffed on his negative view of the Shinnecock Reservation, which is near his Southampton vacation house, calling it a disaster and a bunch of other things better not repeated.

A response from the Shinnecock Nation was pointed. Mr. Bloomberg, it said, had never even so much as stopped by the reservation, nor expressed interest in Indian affairs until this election cycle. One tribe member observed that his “$20 million home is in the stolen Shinnecock Hills where our ancestors are buried.”

Long Island’s history of dealings with the first inhabitants is nothing to be proud of. The Shinnecocks’ lands were whittled away over the centuries by various connivances, not the least of which were laws aimed at constraining them economically from the very first years of English colonization. The colo­nists were happy enough to set down upon native land, but not willing to include the people there in a share of the wealth they created.

Early on, for example, Indian men were not allowed into the new town to trade. Once the gristmill was built, strict limits were imposed even on selling bread and flour to Indians. In East Hampton, it was against the law to sell them guns, powder, or shot. Meanwhile, as waves of smallpox and other diseases charged through the native communities, the English and a handful of Dutch chopped away at their lands.

The theft continued for more than two centuries. An 1859 New York law approved in violation of a longstanding federal statute cleared the way for the loss of more than 3,600 acres of Shinnecock land to speculators. In 2016 the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that could have righted that wrong.

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