The Face of Bookmarks
The Face of Bookmarks
The East End is a collection of changing faces – people, buildings, roads – all transforming in virulently mischievous ways. However, one constant remains, the People of the Shore, the Shinnecock Indian Nation. As Shinnecocks, we remember the Island and the East End before the massive and daily traffic jams, before the Kardashians and even the duPonts. I often wonder if it is just Shinnecocks who say “This doesn’t look like what we remember of Long Island’s East End.” I wonder if this statement is ever made by a newbie visiting what is now referred to as “The Hamptons” when observing and possibly engaged in a conversation with someone who has built one of the monstrosities of homes that are now peppered throughout the area. I wonder if others are as attentive to our changing shores – the shores where we as Shinnecocks over the centuries were and continue to be such good caretakers.
In a few years, people will forget when the Parrish Art Museum sat at the center of Southampton Village, but our memories are markers of time. Our memories bookmark the ever transforming faces of the East End. Shinnecocks have become pseudo-librarians bookmarking the changing landscape of Long Island with each passing year. Searching through my own catalog of bookmarks, I remember things like the night club, The Balloon, and despite having a parking lot full of mudholes, if you could find a spot to park then you and friends could battle in a classic game of backgammon. I remember the Mad Hatter where some of the best up and coming bands debuted and The Cave, where everything was underground. These were all places which in the past like those of today were a draw for people to come to the East End. Now, places that once were, are transformed into areas filled with condos and townhouses adding to the traffic dilemma. My bookmarks include many past encounters with East End transient residents such as the likes of Capote, or the Berensons, CZ Guest and even George Plimpton. I was an extra in the Alan Alda movie “Sweet Liberty” filmed in Sag Harbor. My bookmarks also include a distinct encounter with an East End transient – the Actor/Producer Tim Daly. Mr. Daly was in town to promote a film. The Parrish had arranged for a screening of Edge of America as part of the Hampton Film Festival. It was a quintessential feel-good film about helping the “poverty stricken” Indian children located on a western reservation learn and succeed at playing basketball. Just prior to the screening and the commencing of the film, I was able to interact one on one with Mr. Daly. During this exchange he made the statement to me that he had met several members of my tribe during his stay on the East End and he hoped I didn’t mind him saying this but “you all do not look like Indians”. I wondered what is an Indian supposed to look like, at least to him.
Hollywood for decades has attempted to define Indians by casting numerous non-Indians in various roles from Rock Hudson to Burt Lancaster to even Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn. Mr. Daly had participated in a film involving members of a western tribe and then to promote the film he was here in the Hamptons, at the very home of one of the still remaining eastern tribes and he felt the need to comment that “we do not look like Indians”. This made me bookmark the fact that the reality of the East End is a web of spinning falsities, namely false faces. These false faces are claimed by all those who venture out East and fail to ever learn the name of the original peoples of this land and then when meeting them make the statement “you don’t look like Indians”. What would be an acceptable response?
I think back to the days of my grandmother and I am quite certain that no one ever said to her “you don’t look Indian”. She was able to live her life here on Long Island when there were far fewer people resulting in far fewer of these cross-cultural parlays. My grandmother, Blanche Eleazer Carle, like many Shinnecock women, was revered as a Long Island Indian not based on a Hollywood fetish, but for her ancestral knowledge of the East End. I fondly remember trailing her skirt as a child berry picking in the many now forgotten strawberry fields. Faces of Long Island that are familiar to Shinnecocks are those covered in the blue and red pigments of berries dripping down the cheeks of children as they follow their grandmothers gathering wild strawberries or blueberries which once were everywhere. Like the strawberry we are Indigenous to these Atlantic shores and my grandmother knew every spot where one could find the juiciest crop.
But, my grandmother, had other faces of what it means to be Shinnecock that should not be forgotten. She was a master weaver. Caning was her specialty and people would bring their caned chairs to her to repair the seating areas. Because of this skill she had crafted individual baskets for each of us to carry on our berry picking excursions. I cherished my basket especially when it was full and brimming with fresh berries. She was also a fabulous cook and her pies, often made from the berries that we picked earlier in the day were sought out by not only her family members but other summer vacationing families to the East End. To we Shinnecocks, she was a giver and by that I mean she would give of herself through her cooking or her weaving. Everyone knew that they could stop by her home, at any time, especially if they were in need of a home cooked meal. She observed tribal traditions and was always in attendance at June Meeting (our annual Strawberry Moon harvest ceremony) and she never missed a Pow Wow. She was a spiritual and prayerful person and a person I admired and through that admiration she inspired many of my East End bookmarks.
There are many faces of the East End, but those that go unnoticed are the faces of the Shinnecock Indians. We are not what you may expect, but since time immemorial the East End has been our home. We have welcomed many transient faces to these shores and continue to do so all the while hoping that one day our visitors will acknowledge the original stewards to this place you call the “Hamptons”. We are the People of the Shore, Shinnecock, and we welcome you.
——- Michele Leonard