Gov. Kathy Hochul’s veto of a bill that would have jump-started an overdue effort to right a wrong done to the Montaukett people was disappointing and part of a long string of similar rejections coming from successive New York governors. While this may be seen as a setback for the tribe, they are not going anywhere. The Montauketts have lived on this land for as long as there has been land.
The Montaukett Nation was recognized by the New York until it was improperly declared extinct in a 1910 state court ruling. State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. has rightly described the outcome of the case, known as Pharaoh v. Benson, as “one of the most racist decisions in the history of New York jurisprudence.”
Centuries before Pharaoh v. Benson, institutionalized exclusion was forced upon the Montauketts and all of the other Indigenous groups of the Northeast. Among the first official acts by the English colonists who established the East Hampton “plantation” were laws banning the native people from the nascent community and sharply constricting their ability to survive economically.
We are not privy to whatever private conversations Governor Hochul and those who preceded her may have had in rejecting the Montauketts’ indisputably valid claim. In other parts of the country, tribal recognition has been blocked out of fear of real estate disruptions or costly reparations, but worry about what might happen is not an excuse for failing to act. Whatever the supposed consequences, the governor cannot in good conscience pretend the Montauketts ever went away.