Participating the the SAMP House groundbreaking on July 9 were Benjamin B. Tucker, Deputy Director of State, Local and Tribal Affairs, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; (man in hat: Ken Wright, SAMP construction site manager); U.S. Congresman Tim Bishop (with shovel); Steve Calo SAMP Board Member; Rev. Michael Smith, SAMP Director; Judge Ed Burke, Southampton Town Justice and SAMP Board member; (with shovel) Randy King, Shinnecock Trustee Chairman and SAMP Board member.

Shinnecock Nation Breaks Ground on Recovery House

Gale Courey Toensing

SAMP, the acronym for the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s Substance Abuse Mobilization Project, also represents a traditional Shinnecock food: samp is a corn and bean dish that has nourished and sustained Shinnecock people for centuries. Those who are recovering from drug and alcohol abuse will soon be nourished and sustained in a brand new SAMP House.

On Saturday, July 9, tribal members broke ground for a recovery home and wellbriety center that will accommodate almost a dozen residents and care for dozens more on an outpatient basis. Invited guests to the historic groundbreaking included Congressman Tim Bishop (D-New York) and a number of local politicians, health workers and Southampton Hospital foundation representatives.

The nation’s SAMP House is being guided by Rev. Mike Smith, a Shinnecock citizen, graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and the pastor of the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church, which the nation says is the oldest continuous reformed Indian congregation in the United States, established in the mid-1600s. “The idea for a SAMP House came about as we began to look at some of the issues we have here in the community and one of the big issues is alcohol and drug abuse. It kind of impacts all of us in some form or fashion,” Smith told Indian Country Today Media Network.

The two-story SAMP building will be a recovery home, a sober house, and a wellbriety center, Smith said. The two stories will be dedicated to living space and the basement will be devoted to wellness programs.

The SAMP program has been ongoing for several years and is conducted in the church, the tribe’s family preservation building “and some of it is just done outside,” Smith said. The SAMP is a faith-based health initiative providing clients spiritual and culturally appropriate services that treat the whole person. But awareness of the need for a stand-alone center has grown following a 2007 raid on the reservation that yielded guns, drugs, and stolen goods, and resulted in the arrest more than a dozen people in what police called “major narcotics distribution network.”

Funding for the SAMP House is not yet secured. The Shinnecock Indian Nation gained federal acknowledgement last October after 32 years of bureaucratic and legal snafus, becoming the 565th federally recognized tribe in the county. But federal recognition is not bringing forward funding for the SAMP House.

“It’s still an act of faith, if you will. We figure we’ll dig the hole and some of our friends will help fill it up with money and good wishes,” Smith said, laughing. The building is estimated to cost between $300,000 and $350,000, Smith said. “There hasn’t been that kind of funding available but things are beginning to fall into place a bit as we establish the kind of relationships that can help.”

The if-we-build-it-the-funding-will-come philosophy is paying off. A major contribution has come from Ken Wright, a local building contractor, Smith said.

“I’m also on the board of Southampton Hospital and a couple of the board members heard what we’re trying to do and put me in touch with (Ken), who does a lot of upscale contracting  here in Southampton, and he agreed to be the construction manager and he’s pledged $250,000 worth of labor and materials. I told him I don’t know how to thank him,” Smith said. “He’s one of the families that goes back here in Southampton. I graduated from high school with a couple of his sisters so the families have known one another for years and years. He’s done a lot of work with Habitat for Humanity and he decided that this is something he’d like to be involved in.”

Smith said the drug and alcohol problems at Shinnecock and not “overwhelming, but they’re obvious and each of us has had to deal with it in our own ways.” The struggle that many western reservations have with methamphetamine hasn’t hit Shinnecock yet, Smith said. “People are dabbling, but it’s not an epidemic by any means.” The new SAMP House and programs will hopefully ward off a methamphetamine scourge, Smith said.

The SAMP House will have two floors dedicated to living space. The first floor will have a bedroom for the resident house manager, a common dining area and common kitchen. The second floor will have four bedrooms with double occupancy. And the basement will serve as the space where programs and outpatient services are provided. Some of the rehabilitation centers in the area will provide programs and services that will be available to the area’s non-Shinnecock residents, while the in-house residential program will be for nation members only.

Smith, who worked at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center for 11 years, said people who get sober during 30-day programs need a place to go before returning home. “We found you need a safe and sober environment to get the strength to be reintegrated back into the community, so this recovery home will somewhat address those kinds of issues. There’ll be ongoing programs, meetings, and it’s not too far from the health center so any health issues will be addressed immediately.”

The SAMP Home will be built to LEED certification specifications. LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—certification is a green building rating system developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington-based, nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders. The LEED standards are designed to promote design and construction practices that are cost efficient while and environmentally sound, reducing negative environmental impacts of buildings and improving the health and well being of their occupants. The Shinnecock believe their SAMP House will be the first of its kind to be built on reservation land.

“We’re working with two architects who—that’s all they do—build LEED buildings. Again, it’s another classmate of mine. They decided this is something they wanted to do so they drew up the plans pro bono, and that’s why we say we’re digging the hole as an act of faith, confident that the Creator will provide the wherewithal,” Smith said.

Smith is also relying on the Creator to determine the project’s time line. “When it will be finished, I don’t know. I’ve always seen the whole project as kind of an act of faith and it will be completed when the Creator decides it’s time to be completed,” Smith said. “That sounds crazy, but we’ve kind of operated under that premise from the very beginning.”

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amber's picture
Submitted by amber on
Very worthwhile project. Hope that it helps as many people as possible to live the lives they deserve, drug and alcohol free. I think that all tribal reservations would benefit from having transitional housing and or an S.L.E. on reservation land. We are sent all over the country for treatment, perhaps with the hope that we will not go back to the reservations, I don't know. When you are in treatment you are encouraged to go to a Sober Living Environment, whether you are Native or not, it can be a difficult thing to do and even more difficult to make the decision to go to one. Unless you are Native American I don't think one can easily understand the ties we feel to our lands and why it's difficult to leave. I look forward to seeing this come to fruition and hope that it is the first of many. I don't know if it is true, but some have said that the high incidences of drug addiction plaguing reservations today is the most difficult challenge Native Americans are facing today. Personally, I believe it to be true. Recovery is contagious. It's amazing what one recovering addict can accomplish, how many active users one recovering addict may inspire. Imagine what a handful of recovering addicts could do. I want to see recovery on all reservations. I want to see people given the oppurtunity to recover and the choice to live in a clean and sober environment on a reservation. I want to see Twelve Steps collide with Native American spirituality and traditions to make it more pallitable to us. I want to see The Wellbriety Movement talked about in treatment centers. I want Native Americans who are fresh out of treatment to be welcomed home by a group of recovering addicts. The truth is, you can never go back to a home where people are using, even if it's your mother's house, even if you lived there your entire life. Thanks for using a green, environmentally friendly design.