I’m An Indian Too!?
The following is a true story about a tale of two Indian chiefs, a few corporate chiefs, and the long and winding road that was going to lead us all to a ‘field of dreams,’ the creation of a Native American 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 American 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 word Indian, as opposed to Native American because there is a section in Civil 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 then lawmakers were 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 Museum and gift shop. It is a fetching amulet which is placed around the house and/or in a car to trap any bad dreams or evil spirits, before they can do harm to its owner.
The use of a Native American name for our 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 as to our abilities and motives. In their view, we were still just white people 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, an ambitious builder from Southampton, the real estate firm that brokered the the Tanger Outlet Center deal in Riverhead, and most impressive, a Peabody and four-time Emmy winning set and production designer. Rounding out the team was a bonafide Shinnecock Indian who performed as liaison between the skittish Indians and the soft-spoken Dreamcatchers.
We had no coonskin hats, no skinning knives, no loaded rifles, but, make no mistake, we were hunting Indians – 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, assuring palefaces to help them.
Our first stop on the 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, hopelessly congested. We had many meetings with Riverhead officials, who basically chuckled at the prospect of ‘donating’ land to the Indians, and laughed even harder at the thought a casino in the neighborhood. Eventually, the Poospatuck Chief grew restless and irritated, and stopped returning our calls. The Dreamcatchers packed up the miracle potion, loaded up the peace 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, but he wore a lovely Italian suit. We needed a ‘war chest’ of approximately five million dollars to get things rolling, and we were willing to speak to anyone with semi-deep pockets. No, we did not approach Donald Trump. Our team agreed it was not a good idea because the redheaded shark would have swallowed up us minnows with one bite, but I think it was because we were getting tired of being laughed at.
We met with the chief of the Montauketts. He was delighted to talk to us, especially since our meetings always took place at a Southampton saloon. He liked 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. He ordered a lot of drinks. We supplied the drinks. Double-talk was shared by all. And the noses kept getting longer and longer.
In a rather lame defense, I might say that at least the Dreamcatchers were trying to do something that resembled altruism, and we were working very hard to raise the money. We were also salivating at the thought of our percentage.
At almost the same time, we learned that the Montaukett Indian Tribe of Indians lost all rights to their land in 1910, when the New York State Supreme Court settled the ongoing legal dispute by declaring the tribe extinct. Of course, the tribe was contesting it – for decades, and the ‘chief’ had file cabinets filled with records to show that the Montauketts not only existed, they were 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, we were told, that could take as long as ten years (don’t hold your breath).
The Shinnecocks were in the same canoe at that time, waiting for national recognition. In 2010, after a thirty-two year wait, the Shinnecocks received Federal recognition, giving them gaming approval. I wish them every good fortune, and I’m sorry our Native American team member did not live to see it.
The Montauketts are currently gathering the fragments of their tribe from all around the U.S., in hopes of becoming a State and/or Federal Native American Indian Nation. In 2013, the court upheld the 1910 ‘extinct’ decision. The Montauketts walk and talk like Native Americans. They love their heritage, and they should. They deserve to be recognized and respected.
As both the Montauketts and the Shinnecocks were part of the Algonquian Indians, The Dreamcathers hoped to ‘grandfather’ both tribes into recognition. The BIA was not buying it.
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 and slide show of how everyone involved would 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. Honestly, they looked like seven statues – none of them moved a muscle. And, they were not moved by a single word or photo of the presentation. The chief did not thank us for our efforts; he did not shake anyone’s hand; he didn’t smile. He did drink. He was stone-faced, as was the rest of the Indian panel. I thought they didn’t like the food. Finally, after an unnerving deadly silence, the chief inquired about the Dreamcatchers’ 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 agreement. Something happened, we still don’t know what it was, but the meeting was over, and no one even stayed for coffee and cake.
Needless to say we were baffled. Then the bomb dropped. We were transacting with an imposter. The ‘chief’ was not a chief, and had no power to negotiate any deals. The ‘chief’ who was a friend of one of The Dreamcatchers, 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 the deal. Someone must have got wind and headed them off at the pass. They came to the meeting just for ‘show.’ We had no reason to believe that we were talking to the wrong chief, or if there even was a chief. For that matter, we were not even talking to members of an existing tribe. This was a case of too many chiefs…
As for the Dreamcatchers, the company was dissolved, and we all went back to our regular jobs, having awakened from the REM cycle. We did not catch a dream at all – we just walked around in one for a couple of years.