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Montaukett tribe waiting on Governor Hochul to sign bill to recognizing their sovereignty

New York State Capitol building in Albany
Matt H. Wade
New York State Capitol building in Albany

The Montaukett Indian Tribe was stripped of their recognition by the State of New York in 1910. Now, a bill to acknowledge the tribe has passed by the state Legislature for the fourth time.

The bill was first introduced in 2013 and passed the state Senate and Assembly that year, as well as in 2017 and 2018. Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the legislation each time, claiming the tribe lacked enough documentation and cooperation from the U.S. Department of State to look into the case. The federal agency has yet to make its determination.

State Senator Anthony Palumbo, R-Riverhead, who sponsored the bill, said he feels hopeful this time around with Governor Kathy Hochul that she will restore the tibes status as a nation.

“Certainly Governor Hochul should recognize that these poor folks have been trying to get recognition for many, many years now and it's the appropriate time for them to be recognized and get this recognition, not on a whim, because they deserve it, because they, as I said, live in our community and it's a culture that we embrace,” Palumbo said.

Sandi Brewster-Walker, the tribe’s government affairs officer, said she has spent the last four years putting together the tribe’s complete history to provide to the Governor’s office.

“We worked very hard with the senate and the assembly for it to come up again and we’ll do the same thing if it doesn’t go through this year and that’s just something we’ll have to do,” Brewers-Walker said.

State Assemblymember Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, who co-sponsored the bill, said he feels confident this bill has all the information needed to be passed this time around.

“Number one because it’s a new governor,” Thiele said. “Number two because extensive documentation about the history of the Montaucketts has been provided to the Governor’s office and then finally, which should be the most important, it's the right thing to do.”

If the bill is passed, the tribe will be eligible for some state programs that recognized Indigenous tribes are eligible for, like education, healthcare, and economic development funding. It will also help move the nation forward with federal recognition.

Brewster-Walker said the tribe has been in this position before and isn’t getting their hopes up for Governor Kathy Hochul to sign the bill this year.

Clare is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.