Editorial: Practical Realities

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We do not reject the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence because Congress excised Jefferson’s condemnation of the slave trade. We do not throw out the Constitution because it tells the states to count each of their slaves as three-fifths of a person.

We do not renounce the United States and move elsewhere because of its flaws and its monumental sins of the past, including slavery and the near destruction of Native Americans and their cultures coast to coast.

We want to stay here and try to make things work, hopefully for the better.

Likewise, the Town of Southampton and the State of New York cannot abandon their mandated goals of highway safety and sensible land use out of guilt and shame for what their predecessors did: exploiting, killing, marginalizing and stealing the lands of Native Americans.

That’s why they must do all they can to stop the Shinnecock Nation from building two towering video advertising signs on each side of Sunrise Highway on tribal land in Hampton Bays. That means an epic legal battle is in the works.

The federally recognized tribe has every reason to resent the double standard that a history controlled by newcomers applies to them. But for the state and town, that isn’t the issue. By the highway aesthetic and safety standards of modern America, the tribe’s signs will be outrageous: big, distracting, out of place, way too close to the highway and as crass as the illuminated skyline of Las Vegas. The state and town cannot let them stand.

Tribal leaders say the signs are on sovereign Shinnecock property where town and state law don’t apply. They add that the highway is on stolen land. Those issues, obviously, are going to have to be litigated.

Quite convincingly, the tribe notes that its people have had to watch the newcomers build monstrosities all over their aboriginal lands. Why should they feel any qualms about subjecting the newcomers to a couple of in-your-face video signs blaring their advertising messages over the low hills of lower Red Creek? Especially when those signs will financially benefit a tribe so clearly in need of an economic boost.

“We have been good neighbors since 1650,” the tribal council said in its press release last week, “but our good nature has been met with encroachment, theft of land, racism and double talk. The project in question is going to provide substantial resources to our Nation and allow our people to finally address the economic disparity that has plagued our community for generations.”

Both sides have their responsibilities: the tribe to its heritage and its peoples’ economic future; the town and state to the rule of law. But because of the practical realities with which history has left, each also has a responsibility to the other. There’s no question the town and state have a duty to assist the Nation as it works to lift up the prospects of its people. Likewise, the tribe — which has been forced over the centuries to find a way to survive on the newcomers’ terms — must find a way to co-exist with its guilty neighbors. As unfair as that may be in the context of the past 527 years, there’s no other practical solution.

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