Q&A: Rock Star Roger Waters Talks About His Connection To South Fork, And The Shinnecock

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Tela Troge and Roger Waters at Southampton Town Hall in May. DANA SHAW

Ironically, it was golf that first brought Roger Waters to the South Fork.

That was more than 20 years ago, when a record executive who lived in Quogue took the avid golfer to the National Golf Links in Shinnecock Hills. Walking up the 16th fairway on the course designed by legendary golf course architect Charles Blair Macdonald in the 19th century, “a little inner voice in my head said, ‘This place is magical. Well done, Charles Blair Macdonald,’ or whatever his name was. And the little voice said, ‘If I could join this golf club, I would move here.’”

He did — first renting in Quogue, then Southampton and now living in an estate he bought in Bridgehampton. The legendary rocker, a founding member of Pink Floyd who has gone on to a long solo career, eventually did join both the National and Shinnecock Hills golf clubs. (At the National, where golf legend Raymond Floyd was already a member, he said the story goes that the discussion about adding him to the club’s roster wrapped with, “Well, we already have Floyd — we might as well have Pink, too.”)

The irony is that both clubs are located on the ancestral lands of the Shinnecock Nation. Today, the outspoken musician, who has courted controversy with no-holds-barred positions in support of the Palestinian people and criticizing Israel, among other progressive causes, has taken a role in the Nation’s battles as well.

In July, his $300,000 personal donation was instrumental in the preservation of a 4.5-acre portion of Sugar Loaf Hill, a traditional tribal burial site in Shinnecock Hills that was purchased by Southampton Town and Peconic Land Trust for $5.6 million. A home on the site will be demolished, and the land will be returned to its natural state — and, eventually, given back to the Shinnecock Nation.

Last week, Roger Waters spoke via Zoom from his Bridgehampton home about his connection to the region and how the Shinnecock cause fits into his world view about oppressed communities.

Q: What was it that prompted you to become involved in the Shinnecock’s causes?

I’ve been sort of vaguely interested for many years without ever getting … I nearly said “sucked in.” I don’t feel sucked in. I feel really happy to have been allowed in, to become a part of it.

This is very recent. Last September, so it’s less than a year, there was a demonstration, and it was a motorcade, and they met down by the college, very near [Shinnecock Territory]. And it was a cavalcade of people whose message was “tax the rich and feed the poor,” basically.

And they drove from that car park, which — and I’m grinning now — they drove to [former New York City] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg’s house, which is Charles Blair Macdonald’s old house. It’s the one you can see the chimneys from the 11th tee. So we all know that house.

… So they drove there and very peacefully explained how they thought that rich people should pay taxes, too. And then they went on to [The Blackstone Group CEO] Steve Schwarzman’s house, which is up in Water Mill, I think.

And I thought, “Oh, my God. I can’t miss that.”

So I jumped in my car and drove there. But for some reason they got delayed or they never went there. I don’t know, but I couldn’t find them.

Well, in the meantime, a close friend of mine at Shinnecock, one of the caddies at Shinnecock [Hills], Timmy Fox, was standing with his bike on the side of the road when the cavalcade went past, and there was a bit of a traffic jam there. And the car that pulled up next to him when he was standing there just watching and sort of half applauding, whatever, was Becky Genia — Rebecca Genia of the famous Thunderbird Sisters.

And they got talking at the side of the road, and Timmy said to Becky, “There’s a friend of mine that I think you should meet.” And he put us together.

Isn’t that weird?

… Anyway, to cut a long story short, I met Becky at the Raindrop Café at the edge of the reservation, and we made a little cavalcade and we went to Sugar Loaf. That’s where we went.

Q: So you have been to the site up there?

Absolutely, yeah. I went up there with Becky and her daughter, Rainbow, and a lady who was visiting from somewhere else at the time. And the four of us went up and had a sniff ’round.

Q: What was your impression?

I was deeply moved. It is very spiritual. I’m something of a well-known radical atheist, but, nevertheless, I felt moved when I was up there. Maybe it was the smell of Rainbow’s bunch of sage burning. Or something, whatever — it was a very powerful feeling up there.

So one thing led to another, and I met a few other people from the Nation, including Tela Troge, young counselor Troge, and Kelly Dennis, who is the other counsel there, and a few people on the Tribal Council. And, slowly but surely, we — and then, crucially, John Halsey from Peconic Land Trust — we decided that we were going to link arms and work hand in hand toward trying to get this as a start, this one very sacred place back into the hands of the people to whom it is sacred.

… And, hopefully, that is a beginning, not an end.

Q: You mentioned Rebecca Genia. Graves protection has been such an important part of her life, and her battle went on for 20 years without a whole lot of progress — it seemed so frustrating for so long. It really puts the purchase of Sugar Loaf into context: This is a very big deal.

It’s a seismic change in a positive way for this whole cause of preserving these burial sites.

Yes, it is. It is, as I have explained at the top of my lungs on many occasions over the last year, a historic moment. It’s crucial.

Q: You’ve been paying attention to the Shinnecock Nation’s battle with the state over the pair of monuments on Sunrise Highway, too?

They haven’t really moved forward with any of their threats against the monuments and, of course, they’re both up right now and on.

On that note, that afternoon, when the second one lit up, I designed two [advertisements], and they came on at the same time, and that was great — because all their contracts had fallen out. They didn’t have any advertisements at the time to put up on there. So my little bits of art that said, “Welcome to the East End” and talked about the Shinnecock Nation and said, I can’t remember exactly the text, but it was very direct. It was, “Share and protect this land,” because we have to understand that it doesn’t just belong to the settlers. That really is the message.

… I’m not here to throw rocks at anybody, because we are making some progress, and my heart is full of joy because of that. But imagine being [historian and former Southampton College professor] John Strong in his kayak going to work at the university, and suddenly seeing all of that timber on the top of Sugar Loaf, and going, “Ah, ah …” and dashing to the Town Hall and saying, “Stop it! You’ve got to stop this! It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened. Somebody’s building something on Sugar Loaf.”

And they went, “Go away, we’re not interested.”

Q: You said you’re not here to throw stones because it’s a moment of positivity. I’m wondering if, from your perspective, from outside the tribe, do you think it’s a turning point for the way the Nation deals with Southampton Town after decades of being at odds?

Yeah, I do. I think one has to grasp whatever one can, positive parts of this, and Becky Genia standing on the top of Sugar Loaf knowing that it’s now in the tender care of the Graves Protection Committee, not just the Shinnecock Nation, because it’s very important that it’s quite clear what’s gone on, and how important it is.

Can we go on to a new future where the scales fall from our eyes, where those of us who are members of golf clubs can attempt to loosen the burden of primal disdain that we’ve carried all these years? Since 1641, or whenever it was that this whole sorry tale began? With the betrayal of the Indigenous people who had lived in these beautiful hills for 10,000 years before any of us first set foot here?

It’s something that I focus on a lot, in all of my work now: When I learned the secret of the genome, and learned that we could now — you give a drop of blood, and we know exactly who you are and where your ancestors are from and what happened, and how we all spread out from either East or North Africa. But the one thing that’s absolutely sure is we’re all from North or East Africa. All of us, every single one of us, and this supremacist bullshit is just a way of controlling the working class.

I know that sounds like ridiculous political rhetoric, and maybe it is, but it’s … But it’s not an American problem — this is a global problem that is based upon those seeds of primal disdain, I call it. It was sown in Spain in 1492 and it spread, and we have to somehow move beyond them.

That’s what the monuments were saying when they say, “Welcome to the East End,” or whatever. They’re trying to express my passion for this idea that every human, every homo sapiens on this planet, is my brother and my sister, and we are all one.

And if we don’t cooperate one with the other, we’re dead.

Q: The monuments seem to have been a big step toward what happened with Sugar Loaf, too. It may have helped push the cause forward. That and the documentary “Conscience Point.”

“Conscience Point,” clearly. … I could hear my heart thudding in my breast watching it, because it is deeply, deeply moving, as you know.

So, yeah, I think maybe the monuments are … There’s something about the fact that they’re on both sides of the road. They’re a gateway now, they really are. And it also reminds us that [Route] 27 runs straight through Indian land. And let us never forget that.

It’s all Indian land, all of it. The 1703 Treaty, or whatever, it makes reference to over 3,000 acres. And it’s a thousand-year lease. It won’t be up until 2700 or something or other. It was 1703. Yeah, 2703, that lease would come up for renegotiation.

Q: It gets into your worldview though, too, right?

Yeah.

Q: You take up the cause of communities all over the world that are considered to be oppressed.

Yeah. No — that are oppressed. But are considered by the supremacists to be inferior. So we hover around Israel, Palestine. I was talking on a webinar thing with friends of mine. … “Roger, you have to understand that most people haven’t even heard that Israel is an apartheid state.”

Ten years ago, you couldn’t use the word “apartheid.” Now, you can’t discuss Israel without the word apartheid.

So, things slowly change. But to change the attitudes of the people who think they’re better than their brothers and sisters, that is the trick. Because a lot of it is based in quasi or actual religious beliefs about what God told them. God, Divine Providence, Manifest Destiny — all these phrases are expressions of the primal disdain that you are given permission to feel for your brothers and sisters, because God says it’s okay.

I mean I can laugh, but only just. Because it’s so sick and so sad and so stupid. And so counterproductive.

… My new show I’m doing next year, by the way, is called “This Is Not A Drill.” This is not a drill.

I wrote a song in 1972 for “Dark Side of the Moon,” it’s called “Time”: “Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day, fritter and waste your hours in an offhand way.” But then suddenly you realize “you missed the starting gun” — and this is it. And we’re not going to get another chance.

So, why? Why don’t we take it a bit more seriously that Oregon is on fire, and we’re actually breathing it in here, on Long Island? When you look at the sun and it’s that beautiful red color, that is because Oregon’s on fire!

And yet, can we act collectively do something about this? No, we can’t. Why? Because Jeff Bezos wants to go to the moon in a bloody penis.

What a prick. What a disgusting piece of filth that man is, and yet it’s all over CNN and blah, blah, “Ooh, well done, Jeff.”

… Same as Bill Gates and [Mark] Zuckerberg and all the rest of the assholes who are sitting on huge piles of personal cash. Hang on a minute — we need those resources. We, the people, all of us. All the brothers and sisters. All us Africans. Share it.

Q: I’ve been told that the deal couldn’t have been done without your involvement at Sugar Loaf, that your personal contribution made that possible. Are you going to continue to partner with the tribe and with the Peconic Land Trust on future purchases in Shinnecock Hills? Is that the plan?

“Yes” is the short answer. And I’m not going to give you the long answer, because these are delicate procedures, and we’ll see how things move forward and what happens. But the short answer is, yeah, of course I am. I’m not going to suddenly disappear.

Q: It’s the start of something, rather than the end of something?

Well, it is, yeah. When we stand up in public, with a tear in the corner of our eye, and say things like, “This is a historic moment,” it’s not politics. It’s being deeply grateful and feeling … I nearly said honored, but that’s not important. The important thing is that one gets an opportunity to express one’s humanity with others. And to be able to break through whatever the boundaries might be and have that feeling, “Oh, my goodness. Look, here we are acting collectively and there is a good outcome to this collective action.”

Even if that outcome may seem somewhat insular, i.e., we are respecting your ancestors, they’re not my ancestors, but your ancestors are my ancestors. We’re all in this together. And if we don’t figure out how to love one another and act collectively, we’re f—-d, is my view.

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