In Memoriam: Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile

Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile
Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile at the opening to the Shinnecock Powwow  |  photo courtesy Michael Gomes

Shinnecock Nation elder Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile, a teacher, community leader, ceremonial dancer and daughter of a chief, passed on to the Spirit World on Friday, August 21, 2015.

She was 85 years old and died at home with her family by her side.

Ms. Haile, often known by her Shinnecock name Chee Chee, was the daughter of Chief Thunderbird, who revived the Labor Day Weekend Shinnecock Powwow in 1946, and she played an active role in the Powwow celebrations throughout her life.

She was well known publically for her prayer dance of The Lord’s Prayer at the start of the Powwow, served on the Tribal Council and the board of directors of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum, was a member of Shinnecock Presbyterian and Southampton Methodist churches, and taught dance.

She held a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oneonta, a master’s degree from New York University and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Southampton College.

She was the wife of Richard Haile and the mother of their four children: Scott, Holly, Ben and Tina, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of four.

Elizabeth Haile
Elizabeth Haile

She had received honors ranging from a “Women of Vision” Award presented by the Schenectady YWCA to a “Women of Faith” Award in Salt Lake City, presented by Presbyterian Church USA.

She was also a founding member of the Hayground School in Bridgehampton and a storyteller at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum.

Ms. Haile’s daughter, the Rev. Dr. Holly Haile Davis, is the first Native American woman to be ordained by the Presbyterian Church, USA.

Elizabeth Haile often talked about the way in which members of the Shinnecock Nation’s lives have paralleled those of the settlers of Southampton in the past 375 years — with little interaction between the two communities.

She told The Sag Harbor Express in November of 2010 that she had been appointed the liaison between Southampton Town and the Shinnecock Nation in 2009, but it had seemed to be a title in name only.

“I was appointed to be the person to fill that desk and represent my nation but they have never found a place for my desk yet,” she said. “I was invited last June to go and look at a space that had been vacated and would be appropriate for the Native American liaison office and that was the last I ever heard from them. I said that would be fine, and then I never heard from them again…. It’s because we have a wonderful sense of humor that we’ve survived all of this.”

Ms. Haile also took an active role earlier this year in the 375th Anniversary celebrations of both Southold and Southampton towns,

“Welcome,” Ms. Haile told the crowd of descendents of settlers, historic-minded citizens and government officials of both towns at a joint convocation at Southampton’s Presbyterian Church this March. “We still welcome you.”

Ms. Haile, who also took a trip to Greenport in January for Southold’s 375th Anniversary kick-off, said her role in the festivities is one of “somber watchfulness,” as her grandson showed a two-row wampum belt off to the crowded church.

“This is a symbol of non-violent coexistence,” she said. “It depicts two vessels in one river. These lines do not cross, but they run side-by-side.”

She said those lines mirror the paths taken by both the Shinnecock Nation and the settlers since Southampton’s founding in 1640.

“Our way of life…reached back 10,000 years,” she said in a narration of a reenactment of the settlers’ landing at Conscience Point in June of 2015. “Nowedonah was a true leader rose to his true place in history by finding a peaceful way to direct these people, these strangers in their pitiful condition. He led them to safety, to an inland location. Shinnecock people indeed provided shelter.”

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge, Inc., P.O. Box 5078, Southampton, New York 11969.


Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

2 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile

  • August 27, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Had the privilege of meeting her once several years ago. An impressive woman. Good story!


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