An ‘Injustice’ Must Stand a While Longer

    Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 11th-hour veto of a bill that would have smoothed the Montaukett Indian Nation’s path toward state recognition will not be the last word on the tribe’s effort to reclaim its identity, according to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Chief Robert Pharaoh.

    In his veto message, the governor said the bill would require New York State to adopt the lengthy and thorough federal process for recognizing Indian tribes. Mr. Cuomo said that would be too costly for the state.

    Mr. Thiele co-sponsored the bill with State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle. It easily passed both houses of the state legislature in June.

    The deadline for the governor to veto the bill was midnight Friday. Mr. Thiele said the first he heard that there might be a problem with it was when the governor’s office called at about 8 that night, “when it was too late to do anything about it.”

    “I think they misinterpreted the legislation,” said Mr. Thiele. “We put in the bill that it would use the same standards as they use for federal recognition, but we did not authorize the federal process. The bill was deliberately written not to do that.”

    Instead, he said the bill would have allowed the Montauketts to directly petition the state Department of State for recognition, with the burden of proof placed on the tribe, not the state. The secretary of state would then weigh in on the merits of the petition before issuing a recommendation to the legislature, which would vote on that recommendation.

    The state would have been able to charge the tribe a fee for processing its petition, insuring that it would not cost taxpayers “a dime” to weigh in on the tribe’s application, Mr. Thiele said.

    Despite vetoing the legislation, the governor has directed the secretary of state to study the merits of Montaukett recognition, which leaves a door open, according to Mr. Thiele.

    “A couple of things are going to happen,” he said. There will either be “a fair and balanced report from the secretary of state, or we could always go back and reintroduce the legislation and address the concerns of the governor’s veto,” early next year.

    Mr. Pharaoh said he was disappointed by the veto but looked forward to working with the secretary of state.

    A statement on the tribal website,,  describes the veto as a possible “blessing in disguise” because the governor has directed the secretary of state “to determine the merits of Montaukett recognition.” Now, the tribe will not be held to the more difficult federal standard.

    “Ironically, this was our ultimate goal in the first place,” the statement continues.

    The state recognized the Montauketts as a tribe until 1910, when a still-controversial court decision resolving a land dispute between the Indians and the Montauk developer Arthur Benson declared the tribe to be extinct.

    “My legislation was designed to give the Montaukett Indians an opportunity to reverse this century-old injustice,” Mr. Thiele said in a release. “Unfortunately, the veto will only serve to perpetuate this questionable court decision.”