Dozens of Shinnecock and their supporters have struck camp in the woods just off Sunrise Highway in a show of protest spurred by the fight over the tribe’s roadside electronic billboards, but harking to centuries of illtreatment.
The “occupation” of the tribe-owned land, which is being led by a group of Shinnecock calling themselves the Warriors of the Sunrise, will run for 26 days and leaders say that the group will have more than a hundred supporters rotating through the encampment this month.
The protesters pitched tents and built camp fires on Sunday in the trees of West Woods, the parcel of land the tribe owns just west of the Shinnecock Canal.
Two electronic billboards were to be built on the land, which is bisected by Sunrise Highway, that the tribe says would generate millions of dollars per year in revenue to help support the economically bereft tribal territory.
One of the 61-foot-tall billboards, on the south side of the highway, was erected in May 2019, but Southampton Town and the New York State Department of Transportation won a court injunction to block the second one before it could be constructed.
The steel base and foundation for the second billboard sits unfinished just yards from the encampment.
“Activism does lead to solutions,” Rebecca Genia, a leader of the protest group and the tribe’s most renowned activist, said in the bitter cold of Monday morning. “It’s pretty chilly in November, so we don’t want to be camping out here, or asking our supporters to come be with us, but it comes to a point where you have put some attention on the historical abuse by the state of New York and town of Southampton. We are challenging these people who have mistreated our people for centuries.”
Joining members of the Shinnecock Nation will be activists from the Long Island Progressive Coalition, the Multicultural Solidarity Friendship Circle and the Red Nations, an indigenous women’s activist group.
The tribe has set up a fundraising portal on GoFundMe to help with the purchase of food and supplies for the camp’s residents over the next month. It had soared past the $25,000 stated goal before the camp had even been set up on Sunday.
Ms. Genia, who was the subject of “Conscience Point,” a documentary released last year focusing on the tribe’s efforts to protect sacred burial grounds, said that the fight over the billboards is only the latest in a long history of mistreatment by the government bodies the tribe does not see itself beholden to.
The West Woods property was the anchor of the tribe’s original casino plans in 2001, but was derailed by a lawsuit from Southampton Town. A tribal “land claim” lawsuit that argued more than 3,000 acres of land in what is now known as Shinnecock Hills was taken unjustly from the tribe in 1859 was also dismissed by a federal court.
“Southampton is all over-development and greed and profit — it’s just disgusting,” Ms. Genia said. “But when we want to put up a sign, which is within our rights, we get clobbered. Billionaires live in their palaces on stolen land, they destroy our cemeteries so they can play golf. The unfairness is right there in everyone’s face. It comes to a point where we have to say, ‘I’m not hiding this anymore. I will not be an abused child.’”