Four is a wondrous age, a time when anything and everything is possible. I recollect passing half of the year attempting to dig to China through my best friend, Donna’s bottomless sandbox; after discovering that mysterious country is on the exact opposite side of the planet from us. We were certain that our perseverance would eventually pay off. When we didn’t reach our destination, despite long and diligent attempts, we were convinced we just hadn’t dug deep enough. We never had the opportunity to pursue our mission to completion, as Donna’s mother ultimately put an end to our bold endeavor. I suppose she wasn’t happy large having large piles of dirt covering much of her back yard. I always felt she found me to be a bad influence on her eldest daughter.
When my mom told me that she and my dad had just purchased a bungalow in Southampton, and that we would be spending our summers living in it, I was agog. Having never heard the word bungalow before, my incredibly imaginative brain associated it with the closest word to it that my limited vocabulary afforded me. . . buffalo. I struggled with the concept of how a family of six would be able to live on such a beast. It would have to be enormous! I thought of Paul Bunyan’s Kong size, Babe the Blue Ox. How would we manage to climb up its legs to live in it? I supposed that once we somehow made it up we would nestle in its fur. I hadn’t gotten the eating and bathroom aspects worked out.
The day we drove out to see our new acquisition, I was uncharacteristically quiet, full of wonder and anticipation. It was about an hour’s ride from Babylon Village, and I was beside myself with excitement. When we finally pulled into a private road, past one house, I found myself scanning everywhere for the great buffalo. Where could it be? I couldn’t imagine it capable of hiding. All I saw was a small house at the end of a canal. I looked at my mom as she proclaimed “what do you think?” as she gazed at the little house. I was crushed. There was nothing magical here.
My parents unlocked our little summer home and I started getting over my great disappointment. It was cute and cozy inside, with pine tongue and groove throughout. There were two bedrooms, a smallish kitchen and a long picnic table against the far wall, next to the kitchen. The west side of the house had large awning type windows with a fabulous view of the entire canal and Old Fort Pond. There were houses along the north side of the canal and woods on the south side. Woods also surrounded the east and south sides of the little bungalow.
When I found out that The Shinnecock Indian Tribe had a reservation just on the other side of the woody area on the south side of our property, things really started to turn around for me. This place was getting cooler by the minute.
We spent many great summers out there. My three sisters are fourteen, twelve and seven years older than me, so I was pretty much left to amuse myself, as there were no kids anywhere around my age. My mom would drop my sisters off at Cooper’s Beach, sans me, as I was a cootie. I was left to jump through the sprinkler with my trusty Luna the Starkist Tuna blow-up fish that my mom had received through some Starkist promotion. When I’d tire of that I’d sit on our floating deck and catch snappers with a homemade bamboo fishing pole, even though I knew my mom would cook them and I’d be forced to eat them. We did dine on the world’s best corn and tomatoes, however, and it was the only time we had salad every night. Back in Babylon my mother had a penchant for frozen vegetables.
We picked wild blackberries, went crabbing at night, played board and card games, as televisions didn’t get reception out there back then. When I was feeling brave I’d swim in the canal, but the bottom was so muddy, if you touched it your feet would sink into it. At the end of the season we always looked forward to attending the SHINNECOCK INDIAN POW WOW.
We had a motorboat and a sailboat that we took full advantage of, until the canal became so full of silt that most of us on the canal were unable to get our boats out. I believe that I was about nine when everyone got together to have the canal dredged. At this point, the south side of what my dad referred to as the lagoon was in a natural state. My parents decided to have bulk heading installed there, going pretty far up the canal, as our property extended close to Old Fort Pond.
We were back in Babylon when the installation was occurring, but were told by the construction workers that the Indians came down to stop the labor, claiming it was Indian land. We were told that the workers put their equipment around in a circle, like wagons in the old west. I don’t know if I believe that, as they also told me that they had caught an electric eel under the dock. I thought that was scary, but one of my sisters said there are no electric eels in that area.
My dad, who was an attorney had to have a POW WOW with the Chief and tribal members. Apparently everything worked out and life continued blissfully, summer after summer. Back in the day Southampton Village basically closed for the winter.
Eventually I married and moved to Florida for about a decade. During that period, I lost my mom. About a month after I moved back to New York, my father passed on. I stayed at our little bungalow and tended bar at many east end locations, including Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, Southampton, Hampton Bays, East Quogue and West Hampton.
My sisters and I were forced to sell our beloved beach house. I had attempted to split the property into two separate lots, but was informed by the Town of Southampton that was not possible. We ended selling the house and property to a party that flipped it. Somehow, one of the new owners was able to split the property into two lots, and sold the vacant land on the south side of the canal to a prominent local businessman and his wife.
A building permit was issued in 1992, but when the owners of the vacant lot began to clear the land in order to commence construction, the Indians came down and stood in front of the equipment. The Shinnecocks initiated a lawsuit, claiming that the land in question was tribal property. They based their claim on an 1859 Treaty.
Although the current owners had a clear deed to the property, they lost in Supreme Court. They appealed the decision to the Appellate Court, and again lost. The land then legally became part of The Shinnecock Nation. I believe it was the impetus of that win that gave The Shinnecock’s not only the momentum to push for a ridiculously long overdue recognition of their legitimacy as The Shinnecock Nation by the Federal Government, but to pursue their right as such to open a casino.
I for one applaud the Shinnecock’s perseverance against insurmountable odds. It’s absurd that their legitimacy has ever been in question. If they weren’t a legitimate Indian Tribe, why did the government give them a reservation to live on? They have waited way too long for their day in the sun. Their standard of living is below par; all while owning incredibly expensive land in the posh Village of Southampton.
Everyone needs to remember, this was their land. We are the interlopers. Every red blooded Indian should want for nothing and receive the respect they so richly deserve and have so blatantly been denied.
I attest that all that I have printed is true and is verifiable. The story surrounding the court cases has been published in many magazines. I never imagined when I was picturing that giant buffalo, that I would one day be peripherally involved in The Great Shinnecock Nation being recognized as such and finally getting what is due them.