I’m An Indian, Too!
When we think of the word territory, we might think of the Louisiana Territory or the Northwest Territory, very historical (and very nice) pieces of property. But, what about the East End Territory? One would think that we have come to a time and place in history where real estate is not characterized as ‘territory.’ However, some of the East End Native Americans still identify certain areas, and parcels and plots and lots as territory—land lost, or rather, stolen from them by the White settlers. Today, the White settlers are the folks with funds gobbling up every last bit of earth to build house with a Hamptons address and to swim in the same ocean my friends are splashing about in, roughly one hundred miles away in Coney Island. But, that’s another story.
The following is a true story about a tale of two Chiefs, and the long and winding road that led nowhere in the pursuit of lost territory, and the creation of that time honored Native American tradition—The Class One Casino.
Several years ago, I was a minor partner in an enterprise of enormous potential. There were several players, but essentially, the Whites and the Reds were going to team up to share plenty of ‘green.’ The plan was to convince the Town of Riverhead that the Calverton airport property was, in fact, land that still belonged to the Montaukett Indians, an East Hampton tribe. I use the work Indian because there is a section in the Law that is referred to as “Indian Affairs” which deals with Indian rights and privileges. It is a very thin book. There is also a branch of the U.S. Government entitled Bureau of Indian Affairs. Somehow, the lawmakers are not willing to concede, on paper, that the Indians are Native Americans.
Our group was called The Dreamcatchers, a name taken from the Native American talisman that resembles an embroidery ring decorated with hanging feathers of different colors, and comes in a variety of sizes. You’ll find a terrific assortment at the Shinnecock Reservation gift shop. It is a fetching amulet which is placed around the house and in the car to trap evil spirits, or dreams, before they can do harm to its owner. The use of a Native American name for our almost all Caucasian group was the first mistake, and their beautiful symbol plastered on the cover of our prospectus did little to impress our Indian friends of our abilities and motives. In their view, we were still in the business of stealing. First their land, now their culture. The Dreamcatchers was an industrious and varied group. We had a prominent East Hampton architect, a building contractor from Southampton, the real estate firm that brokered the deal for the Tanger Outlet Center in Riverhead, and most impressive, Peabody and a four-time Emmy winning production designer. Rounding out the team was a bonafide Shinnecock Indian who performed as liaison between the skittish Indians and the gentle, assuring Dreamcatchers.
We had no coonskin hats, nor skinning knives, nor loaded rifles, but make no mistake, we were Indian hunters, in hot pursuit of a tribe that was anxious enough, and who had had enough of the White man’s exploitation. And, we were the sympathetic palefaces to help them. Our first stop on the Indian trail was a meeting with the Chief of the Poospatuck Tribe in Mastic. He was a brilliant man, very cordial, but cautious. The Chief was in favor of a casino, but his true mission was to acquire a respectable amount of land, much more than the mere forty acres on which his people lived, congested. We had many meetings with the Riverhead officials, who basically chuckled at the prospect of ‘donating’ land to the Indians, and laughed even harder at the thought of a casino in the neighborhood. Eventually, the Chief grew restless and irritated, and stopped returning our calls. The Dreamcatchers packed up the wagon and headed East.
One of the members of our group was a friend of the chief of the Montaukett Indians of East Hampton. He arranged a meeting. At the same time, the Dreamcatchers were pitching the casino idea to some of the chiefs at prestigious firms such as Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, and to a few representatives of private and not-so-private individuals. One advisor claimed that he represented the Vatican. It was never confirmed. We needed a ‘war chest’ of approximately five million dollars to get things rolling, and were willing to speak to anyone with deep pockets. No, we did not approach Donald Trump. We agreed it was not a good idea, but I think it was because we were getting tired of being laughed at, and Trump, the Shark, would have swallowed up us minnows in a New York minute.
We met with the chief of the Montauketts. He was delighted to talk to us, especially since our meetings were always at a saloon. He like the informal ambiance. And, we talked, and talked, and talked. He loved our ideas. We loved that he loved them. We told him we had the money. He told us he had a tribe. And, the noses kept getting longer and longer. Well, at least the Dreamcatchers were trying to do something that resembled altruism, and we were working very hard to raise the money. Imagine our surprise when we learned that the Montaukett Indian tribe was declared extinct in 1908. Of course, the tribe was contesting it, and the chief had file cabinets filled with records that show that the Montauketts not only exist, they are thriving. It looked like they had a good case. So, we stayed on, and hired an attorney to investigate the laws pertaining to Indians. We knew from the onset that the Poospatucks were a New York State recognized tribe, awaiting recognition from the U.S. government, a process that could take as long as ten years. The Shinnecocks were in the same canoe at that time, waiting for national recognition.
Back at the saloon the sessions were going so well with the Montaukett chief, we decided to throw a little party to meet his tribe members, and to give a detailed proposal of
how everyone involved with prosper. The chief arrived with six other Montauketts, dressed in full Indian regalia, and took their places at the dias, the table of honor. They watched as the presentation unfolded, sitting silently, and regally. They were not moved by a single word or photo of the carefully planned pitch. The chief did not thank us for our efforts, he did not shake a hand or offer a smile. He was stone faced, as was the rest of the Indian panel. I thought they didn’t like the food. Finally, after a deadly prolonged silence, the chief inquired about our percentage of the deal, an item that was settled when the first brandy stinger was poured. We showed him the page in the proposal that outlined the monetary agreement—one that delighted all parties. Something happened, we had no idea what it was, but the meeting was over. The Indians fled. And, we didn’t even have coffee and cake.
Needless to say, we were baffled, but news came to us shortly afterward that we were transacting with an imposter. The chief was not a chief, and did not have any power to negotiate any deals. As I mentioned, the ‘chief’ was a friend of one of The Dreamcatchers, and it seems that he ran the idea of regaining land and building a casino to the real chief, who declined to take a meeting. The bogus chief got the attention of about forty Montauketts, and decided to split from the (real?) tribe, form their own faction, and make a deal with the smiling Dreamcatchers. We had no reason to believe that we were talking to the wrong chief, or if a chief actually existed. For that matter, we were not even talking to members of an existing tribe. Perhaps, since then, the Montauketts were able to prove that they are still here. They walk and talk like Native Americans. They love their heritage, as they should. I hope they find peace in the East End. As for The Dreamcatchers, the company was dissolved, and we all went back to our regular jobs, having given up the Dream. We did not catch a dream at all, we just walked around in one for a couple of years.