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Another Setback for Montauketts

Thu, 12/22/2022 - 09:38
A history book about the Montauketts is available at Sag Harbor Books.
Christine Sampson

Following in her predecessor’s footsteps, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday vetoed a bipartisan and widely supported bill passed by the State Legislature this year that would have granted state recognition to the Montaukett Indian Nation.

Governor Hochul’s veto was the fourth time in nine years that a Montaukett recognition bill was shot down by the state’s executive branch after passing in the Legislature. Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed similar bills in 2013, 2017, and 2018.

“This veto is by far the greatest disappointment for me for the 2022 session,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who sponsored the bill, said.

In a statement attending her veto, Governor Hochul relied on the same sticking point that drove Governor Cuomo to veto the bill three times: “New York has historically only recognized tribes and nation[s] that have had a continuous government-to-government relationship with New York since this state was established,” she wrote.

“Recognition requires the determination that a sovereign nation, with its own functioning government, has continually existed, and as such, requires due diligence on the part of the state to collect and analyze evidence to ensure that any entity requesting recognition is, in fact, a government that has continued in existence over the past centuries.”

Governor Hochul went on to say that in vetoing the bill, she was respecting the critical role of the Department of State to receive and analyze documentary evidence “to show that they have had a continued existence.”

Two groups have come forward since 2013, she wrote, “declaring to be Montaukett Indians. While both groups have begun to participate in the acknowledgement process, to date neither group has provided the Department of State with necessary information requested from each group.”

She argued that the bill would have “had the Department of State bypass its thorough and careful consideration and instead grant state recognition to one of the groups petitioning for recognition.”

Proof of “continued existence” was rendered impossible after a New York State Supreme Court decision handed down more than 100 years ago.

Mr. Thiele himself noted in a May statement that “the Montaukett Indians have a deep, culturally rich history on the East End of Long Island and have continued to thrive to this present day.” He explained the tribe was recognized by the State of New York until its acknowledgment was questionably removed in 1910 in a land claim conflict decided by the State Supreme Court. In Pharaoh v. Benson, to settle in favor of Arthur Benson, the court found that the Montauketts “no longer existed, with them and their leaders sitting in the courtroom,” Mr. Thiele said. “Over the ensuing decades, the decision was criticized by other judges but never reversed.”

In July, Mr. Thiele addressed the former governor’s rationale for vetoing the bill three times. Mr. Cuomo, said Mr. Thiele, had “cited a need for the Department of State to conduct the administrative process and make the final determination in defiance of a legislative precedent of granting Indian nation recognition. Nine years later, D.O.S. has yet to make its determination despite promises of a proactive and timely administrative process.”

This week, a disappointed Mr. Thiele said in an interview that he had “hoped that this governor would take a fresh look at this . . . but based on the veto and the rationale for the veto, I don’t get the sense that anyone did take a fresh look at this and relied on what the prior governor had done. It is a mystery as to the rationale.”

“The former governor artificially created this process that is apparently almost impossible to meet,” he said, “and I thought it was always a way to just put the Montauketts off.”

Governor Hochul offered a note of conciliation in her veto statement: “Vetoing this bill does not preclude [people] with Montaukett heritage from continuing to practice their customs and traditions and teach their progeny the values of their culture, or from supplying the persistent information requested by the state.”

Mr. Thiele said that “what has happened with the Montauketts is unprecedented, having their state recognition taken away. What they have been subjected to in order to get it back is also unprecedented.”


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