The Shinnecock Rez in Review 2012

If you’re from Shinnecock you frequently get asked, “What the heck is going on up there?” Like anything else in the world, the answer depends on who you’re talking to and what they think you ought to know. When my editor asked me to write a year-end piece about Shinnecock, I had to wrestle with what and what not to commit (admit?) to the world. Trying to fit a year’s worth of living on the “Rez” in the space allowed is like stuffing a pig in a pill bottle.

I like to think I write for my fellow tribe members’ erudition and enjoyment. Anyone else will like it or not, care or not, totally not get it, ignore it or drag for me when they see me. If you know what “drag” means, then you’re who I’m writing for.

The year started off with the usual press releases regarding our quest for a gaming facility. Nassau Coliseum, Belmont Racetrack and the West Woods property in Hampton Bays were all bandied about, but nothing has brought it any closer to fruition. In the meantime, Governor Cuomo and other politicos, investors and speculators are trying to run a pass play over and around Shinnecock, trying to get more State-run casinos up and running. It’s all conjecture, machinations and hyperbole at this point. This is New York, so stay tuned.

The tribal council elections took place in January with 200-plus tribal members and a few citizens placing their ballots. The tribal council has been responsible for a lot of things on Shinnecock, including bringing tribal elections home, obtaining voting machines, forming committees to address tribal government, housing, gaming, land use and defense and sending delegates to Washington to talk with the various entities with our future in mind, and a host of other tribal concerns. If it sounds like I’m pro-council, I am. I believe it’s a way for people to serve their tribe by helping preserve our landholdings, culture, political structure and being ever vigilant on the inner workings of the tribe.

The elections for tribal trustees took place the first week in April, as they have for generations, with 200-plus voters again placing their ballots and re-electing the trustees from 2011: Randy King, Gordell Wright and Lancelot Gumbs. Now, unless you’re from out of town, live in the woods, don’t read newspapers or online info, you’d know that chairman Randy King still maintains that position, while trustees Lancelot Gumbs and Gordell Wright were removed from office following a controversial investigation and vote for allegedly seeking other financial casino backers without the knowledge or consent of the tribe. It’s an ongoing and confusing political situation that’s still reverberating throughout the tribe. You know the saying “It will all come out in the wash?” Well, the washer is still on the spin cycle right about now. Just think the Medicis, Borgias, Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, Kipling’s Great Game, Primary Colors, The Godfather and Looney Toons all wrapped up in one. The Democrat and Republican dustups have nothing on us; we’ve been doing it longer.

We’ve had our share of tragedy this year with the accidental deaths of three of our young men, Jason King and Duane White in April, and Matthew Williams in November. I served on council with Jason and can say that he was genuinely interested in working for his people. He always asked what books I was reading and how to enhance his understanding of how the world worked. He was also a passionate, talented artist and writer. I keep one of his articles about being of service to the tribe in my boonie hat. Duane was an athletic, handsome and quiet young man who was usually texting whenever I saw him, but not above being coaxed into giving you one of his dimpled smiles. Matthew was the youngest of triplets, intelligent, fun loving, and the life of any room he walked into. They are greatly missed and will be for a long time to come.

Summer, for the most part, was quiet on the Rez. The high school and college graduations came and went and the summer children’s program provided supervised activities for the kids to do like going to the beach, group games, working on their outfits and giving their parents a break. Some “rezidents” took to the pow-wow trail as much as possible, traveling up and down the coast to various gatherings. My godson, a talented photographer, went along with me for a few and took loads of photos. Look up Jeremy Dennis and you’ll see his work.

Also this summer, there were reports of shots being fired from the Shinnecock shore line at baymen who got too close to what most tribe members feel are our boundary waters. No one was hurt, no one confessed and no one found out anything. This has been going on longer than you might think. Some older people remember being kids and hearing their grandparents make the same complaint about people trespassing. The more things change…

The Shinnecock Pow-wow signaled the end of summer and the weather held up this year with no visits from the likes of Irene. Shinnecock Pow-wow has that happy/sad thing going on; it’s the last of the big gatherings, the days are getting shorter and the kids go back to school right after, though most parents are happy for that last one.

Superstorm Sandy came up the coast but missed doing any major damage to homes and buildings on Shinnecock. The creek did rise and cross the road in several places, which hasn’t happened in quite a long time. Of course, there was the usual Rez humor about the creek following one of Ruben’s chickens across the road.

The holidays are here and the Rez is just like any other community, lighting the tree, wrapping presents and planning for the upcoming year. It looks to be quite newsworthy, so stay tuned and keep your eyes peeled. You might also remember to take everything you read or hear with a grain of salt, or as my uncle used say, “A squint eye.”

I don’t believe in making any resolutions or such but I will make an effort to write more articles for you folks to peruse. So have a great holiday season and I’ll see you in the New Year.

James Keith Phillips’ story “Magic Shirts” won Dan’s Papers 2012 Literary Prize for Nonfiction.

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