Shinnecock community heals after drug raid

Gale Courey Toensing
4/30/07

SHINNECOCK, N.Y. - The Shinnecock community is pulling together after a massive police raid in which nine tribal members were arrested on drug, weapons and conspiracy charges.

The tribe's board of trustees called a tribal meeting on April 21, the day after local and federal law enforcement personnel raided the reservation and nearby towns and arrested 13 people, including five non-Native residents of nearby towns. Police seized drugs, weapons, drug paraphernalia, four cars, a computer, a flat screen monitor and $1,940 in cash.

''The tribal members had a chance to express their thoughts and there was an overwhelming sense of 'thank goodness,''' said Randy King, board of trustees chairman.

Urged by tribal members to address the illegal activities on the reservation, the trustees asked the Suffolk County district attorney's office last fall for help. The raid resulted from that initiative.

Nature provided a sympathetic symbol for the week's events, King said.

''We'd been experiencing heavy, heavy rains the last week. There was a nor'easter and if you were on the East Coast in the U.S. you know the rains were fierce. The day of the raid was such a dreary cold dismal day, and when we had that meeting, the sun finally came out and shone bright on our tribe; our people were together, they poured their hearts out, uncensored, unfiltered. There was a lot of anguish because our families are torn apart, but overall everyone thinks it's good to get rid of drugs on the reservation, and there was an incredible feeling to togetherness and a new day,'' King said.

Tribal leaders learned some lessons from the messages they received from young tribal members.

''We've got to communicate with our youth more and listen to what they're actually telling us. We're a government. We've got to provide for our people. We've got to provide safety and security for them also. We need programs,'' King said.

The tribe is in the anomalous position of having been federally recognized by a federal judge in 2005 but not formally acknowledged by the BIA, which refused to accept the judge's decision and insisted that the tribe go through its federal recognition process.

The Shinnecock sued Interior in an attempt to require the department to federally acknowledge the tribe under the Indian Tribe List Act of 1994, which says a tribe can be recognized by the BIA, Congress or a federal judge. The lawsuit is pending.

The drug raid highlighted the tribe's need for the opportunities that federal recognition would provide for it, Trustee Lance Gumbs said.

''One of the interesting things that came out of the meeting from a lot of the young people was their inability to find jobs in our community and in our town. They said, 'What else is there for us to do?' I'm not making excuses for our kids and that's no excuse for doing drugs or selling drugs, but it is a reality. Federal recognition dollars would go a long way toward helping to eradicate some of these problems through education and job opportunities, health care, public safety and other services,'' Gumbs said.

The area's congressional representative has supported the tribe's quest for federal acknowledgement, Gumbs said.

''Every single time we speak to him about our federal recognition,

which he knows we rightfully should have, he keeps telling us that he has a hard time separating the gaming from the federal recognition,'' Gumbs said.

The tribe has a good grant writing department, said Trustee Fred Bass, but the available grants do not cover the tribe's needs.

''In outside communities where they have taxpaying citizens, they have social programs, halfway houses and all that kind of stuff, which is one of the reasons we're looking for economic development,'' Bass said.

Federal recognition would help the tribe set up a career development program, a court system, public safety, security forces and whatever else is needed to preserve and protect the tribe's way of life, he said.

''All we're asking is for the BIA to do the right thing and follow the federal law that tells them they can put us on the list of federally recognized tribes,'' Bass said. ''Otherwise we're looking at another seven or eight years. The system does not work. It's designed to keep tribes out of the federal system. We've got a 15,000-page petition. We've played by all the rules, but they still aren't doing the right thing.''

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