by Michael Daly
“The first step is to acknowledge it happened”, she said loudly, bringing her hand down from above with her index finger extended. “The next is to make it right. The white man is afraid to admit what he did because he’s afraid that would give us power and then we might be as cruel to him and he was to us!” she exclaimed while looming over me as I sat silently, transfixed on her. “But he doesn’t know us. He doesn’t know that we don’t have it in our hearts to do to him what he’s done to us or we never would have let him get away with it in the first place.”
That moment, that day in June 2018, while many of the world’s best golfers played and the world’s wealthiest people watched the US Golf Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, one of the most coveted golf courses in the world, I sat with elders of the Shinnecock Nation at their protest site on Montauk Highway by the entrance to the Reservation. It was a transformative moment for me and I have thought about it nearly every day since.
You see, the same things that makes Shinnecock a fabulous golf club also made it sacred burial ground for the Indigenous. The beauty, the elevation, the views, the majesty…all the things that make some people want to own it for themselves made the Shinnecocks want to preserve it, care for it and bury their loved ones on that land for eternity.
The history of the indigenous people of this country is told in different ways in different places. Growing up in Elmhurst, New York as a middle-class white, Irish-Catholic kid I recall learning that “the settlers came to (what is now) America and “bought and traded for” land from the Indians so they could live in the land of the free and home of the brave.” Is that what you were taught too?
In August of 2018, I brought a group of about 20 women, men and children from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork to the Shinnecock Cultural Center and Museum on Montauk Highway in Southampton for a fascinating and informative tour of Shinnecock history, led by Historian David Martine. It is a trip that I highly recommend to any group, family or individual. It gave us all a deeper understanding of what life was live for the Indigenous people of Eastern Long Island before, during and after colonization.
Artist Jeremy Dennis, a member of the Shinnecock Nation has created an art-based photography project called ON THIS SITE. The project is to reflect upon archeological and oral histories of the Shinnecock Tribal members to answer the questions of how the Shinnecock people survived colonization, where they settled before the existing reservation and how the current Shinnecock Reservation was formed. Interesting reading!
On his site, Jeremy has the following map of the tribes of Long Island:
It seems the more I see, the less I know and it leaves me with more questions. Questions that many white people never ask and the subjects are mostly avoided in our culture and our schools out of denial and shame. Questions like:
What gave the colonists the right to appropriate the land of the Indigenous?
Why do Native Americans feel like so much of their land was taken unfairly?
Why did the white patriarchs within the US Government form Indian Boarding Schools with the slogan “Kill the Indian…Save the man”?
Why are the Indigenous cultural practices around sustainability and saving the environment not respected by so many?
How can the white man ever ask for forgiveness and make reparations to Indigenous people if we don’t accept and teach the true and complete history of the past?
I’m interested in your thoughts on these questions. Please be respectful in your comments, as unbridaled expression of anger and hate will only keep the wounds we are hoping to heal fresh and festering. We must come together and create “freedom and justice for all.” Tabutne!
BE A YIMBY!!
Michael Daly is an East Ender and regular contributor to The Beacon on community issues he cares passionately about. He can be reached at 631.525.6000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org