Governor Vetoes Montaukett Recognition

For the second time in four years, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has vetoed a bill that would have led to state recognition of the Montaukett Indian Nation. The bill, sponsored by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, passed the Assembly and Senate easily during the summer, and they have said they are not giving up. 

Mr. Cuomo’s veto, on Nov. 29, and his 2013 veto of identical legislation “demonstrate a willingness to twist logic, to twist the facts, just to avoid recognizing the Montauketts,” Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday. 

A judge had declared the Montauketts extinct in 1910, citing dilution of the tribe’s bloodlines through intermarriage. The decision represented the culmination of a years-long effort to remove the Montauketts  by Arthur Benson, who had purchased much of Montauk from the East Hampton Town Trustees, and Austin Corbin, president of the Long Island Rail Road, who planned to extend the tracks from Bridgehampton to Montauk.

The Montauketts, according to the proposed legislation, “seek to restore their acknowledgement and recognition by the State of New York which was improperly removed.” 

A 1994 State Supreme Court decision described the 1910 decision as of “questionable propriety,” but it had no effect.

The Montauketts’ quest for state recognition is not about building casinos on sovereign land or redress for past misdeeds, Mr. Thiele said. The Montauketts “simply want their identity back, that was taken wrongfully by the state.” If that concerns the governor, “I think it’s unwarranted,” he said. “I think the veto is disingenuous. Two vetoes is almost as egregious as the original court decision.” 

 In vetoing the bill, the governor complained that the process of recognizing Indian tribes would be arduous and costly, echoing the argument he made four years ago, when he said he would conduct his own evaluation. 

Mr. Thiele rejected Mr. Cuomo’s rationale. “Basically, the governor said, ‘I don’t like your process, we’ll do our own.’ But the fact is, four years came and went. The governor, and the Department of State, to whom he delegated, didn’t do anything.”  

After the governor’s 2013 veto, Mr. Thiele continued, “I personally called the Department of State every month for more than a year, asking them what they were going to do. After about a year it was obvious they weren’t doing anything.” 

In the legislators’ second attempt, “We put the bill forward, and the governor said, ‘I’m going to veto because you’re trying to short-circuit my process.’ As far as I can tell, there really hasn’t been a process,”  Mr. Thiele said. 

The governor has engaged in several disputes with Native Americans, particularly with respect to gaming casinos. But in separate 2013 agreements, the Oneida Nation was granted exclusive rights to casino gaming in Central New York in exchange for sharing revenues with the state and local governments; the state also recognized the Seneca Nation and its exclusive casino operations in western New York in exchange for revenue sharing. 

Robert Pharaoh of Sag Harbor, who serves as chief of the Montauketts, said yesterday that he was not surprised by the governor’s veto. “Money, money, money. Looking out for the big guys,” was his assessment. “All you’ve got to do is turn on the news. This world is not for the poor. It’s all just a game.”

Promising not to give up, Mr. Thiele said, “We’ll attempt to come up with a strategy to pursue this. I don’t know exactly what the form of the legislation will be, but there should be a deadline. If the governor can’t come up with a substantive objection to recognition, it should become law.”