September 28, 2009
Gov. David A. Paterson is supporting the Shinnecock Indian Nation in their 30-year quest for federal recognition. The move may also smooth the path towards an Indian casino on Long Island.
Paterson sent a letter to U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar that stated "To say federal recognition of the tribe is long overdue would be an understatement." He said New York has had a long-standing government-to-government relationship with the Shinnecocks and said there is evidence of the tribe's self-governance dating back to 1641.
Federal recognition would open the door to grants and loan guarantees for housing education and health care for the tribe. It also would grant the Shinnecocks the right to open a casino on tribal land, although gaming would be limited to video lottery terminals.
Five previous New York governors have not endorsed the tribe's federal application since it first was filed in 1978. Shinnecock trustee chairman Randy King praised Paterson and said "He is a man of his word and the Shinnecock people will never forget it."
The Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs is under a court order to decide by mid-December on the tribe's recognition request.
Mark Tilden, an attorney at the Native American Rights Fund, said his experience has found that governors generally oppose requests for recognition support. He said "It's rare for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to see support of this kind," he hopes it will accelerate the process.
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