On the Governor's Montaukett Veto

It has been more than 400 years since European Caucasians invaded North America and some of us still haven’t learned.

On Nov. 29, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made history for the second time when he vetoed a bill coauthored by our two local state representatives, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, that would have given official status to the Montaukett Indians. I write “the second time” because of the governor’s previous veto of similar legislation authored by Thiele and LaValle and passed by the Legislature four years ago.

Governor Cuomo’s veto is not so different from President Trump’s use of the word “Pocahontas” in reference to the female senator from Massachusetts.

It has been more than 400 years since European Caucasians invaded North America and some of us still haven’t learned. Amerindians were here first, as long as 13,000 years ago. We took their lands for a few dollars and a bagful of trinkets, or, just took their lands for our own for nothing.

Not only did we take their lands, we gave them our Old World diseases — smallpox and consumption, for example — not to mention the many lives we took by more barbarous means.

For the last 150 years we’ve been trying to make nice, at least many of us in many of the United States have. The Shinnecocks gained tribal recognition in 1971, the Corchaugs never formally, but­ they were recognized in other positive ways, and the Poospatucks on their Mastic reservation in southeastern Brookhaven Town.

Governor Cuomo slighted our New York State Native Americans in yet another way recently, he had the Tappan Zee bridge renamed after his father. “Tappan” is a word of Native American origin referring to that area’s local tribe of Lenape origin, while “zie” is Dutch for “sea,” after another group of Old Worlders who arrived here at about the same time as the British.

What Indian place names will fall by the wayside next? Aquebogue? Mattitituck? Peconic? Amagansett? Tuckahoe? Sebonac? I live in Noyac, which means “point of land” in Algonkian. Will it too one day be renamed after a politician or other notable?

Southold was once known as “Yennicott,” hardly a word derived from a European language.

Long Island’s Native Americans taught us many survival skills. The fish trap, a line of impenetrable material leading to the trap, or box, at the end, was one of their inventions and is still in use by local fishermen today. There is one in Noyac Bay a few blocks away from my house. Its barrier and box are crafted from nylon mesh. The Montauketts, Shinnecocks, and Corchaugs didn’t have twine; they used reeds and sticks, which cost nothing and worked almost as well. One might even say that the native peoples not only invented the fish trap, but bay fishing in general. Their kitchen middens invariably contained oyster, clam, mussel, and scallop shells, as well as the bones of local fishes.

Do I dare use the term Bonacker in polite company? It derives from Accabonac, the Indian name for a small bay in the hamlet of Springs. Bonackers, as many locals call themselves, use the term proudly. In their backhanded way they’ve come to appreciate and miss the original locals.

Gardiner’s Island was “Manchonake,” then Isle of Wight after the English isle of the same name, and today, Gardiner’s Island, after Lion Gardiner, who bought it from the Montauketts for some “powder and shot, a black dog and some Dutch blankets.” It was also bequeathed to him by the then- British King Charles I. The paved road, Isle of Wight, that runs from Hog Creek Road north to Gardiner’s Bay in Springs, ended in a convenient viewing and launching spot to the island.

The plight of the Montauketts seeking official state recognition may go on for many a moon, at least until the time a new governor is elected. But all is not lost. They will probably never get their Montauk lands back, but they still have a chief, Robert Pharoah, and still maintain a small museum on the site of Third House County Park. One day, the two could serve as the restart for something much grander and more like the original. Let’s wish them well.

 


Larry Penny can be reached via email at Larrypenny9@gmail.com.