Pictured Above: Members of the East Hampton Town Board with Robert Pharoah (third from left) as he was named Grand Marshal of the parade.

Montaukett Chief Robert Pharaoh has been chosen as the Grand Marshal of East Hampton Town’s 375th anniversary parade this coming Saturday, Sept. 23, as the town supports the tribe in its quest for recognition by New York State.

The parade steps off at 10 a.m. on Main Street and travels up Newtown Lane to East Hampton High School’s 11 a.m. Homecoming Festival, followed by the Homecoming Football Game at 1 p.m.

Hugh King, the town historian, will serve as announcer, stationed at a reviewing stand at Herrick Park. The Montaukett Women’s Circle Dancers will perform on the East Hampton Middle School grounds across Newtown Lane from the reviewing stand when the parade reaches that point. A wide range of community groups will also participate in the parade, and there will be local vendors, food trucks, live music and children’s games and activities.

The town’s selection of Chief Pharaoh as Grand Marshal underscores East Hampton Town’s recent recognition of and support for the Montauketts, despite a long and damaging history of the town’s historical interactions with the tribe.

The Montauketts were stripped of their state recognition by a judge in a 1910 case, Pharaoh v. Benson, related to Arthur Benson’s efforts to acquire Montaukett Indian Nation homelands in Montauk, at Indian Field, a traditional Montaukett burial ground overlooking Lake Montauk.

While New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Sen. Anthony Palumbo have been successful in getting a bill passed in the New York State Legislature, it has not yet been signed by Governor Kathy Hochul. Previous bills passed by the legislature were vetoed by both Gov. Hochul and by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Settlers in East Hampton purchased much of the land that now makes up the town from Connecticut in 1648, though the area to the East of Hither Hills State Park, then Montaukett land, was not a part of that purchase. Over the ensuing decades European settlers, in a series of dubious land deals, gradually gained control over Montaukett lands, with a purchase that was finalized in 1687.

In 1703, the town trustees drew up an agreement specifying that Montauketts were allowed to inhabit the lands known as North Neck between Great Pond and Fort Pond, prohibiting them from entering colonial settlements and limiting the amount of livestock they could keep, and less than two decades later reached an “agreement” that prohibited Montauketts from marrying non-Montauketts. The tribe lost its legal status with New York State in the early 20th Century after the judge in the Pharaoh v. Benson case told a courtroom filled with tribal members that the “tribe had ceased to exist.”

This year’s state legislation, passed by both the State Assembly and State Senate, seeks to overturn the 1910 court ruling, which it states “ignored earlier U.S. Supreme Court decisions defining Indian Nations according to criteria under which the Montaukett Indian Nation qualified as an existing sovereign tribe, and giving Congress, rather than the courts, power to decide the status of an Indian.”

The state legislation is still awaiting Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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 editor@eastendbeacon.com

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