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Long Island tribes labeled as disadvantaged communities, alongside wealthy neighbors

New York state has finalized a list of more than 1,700 disadvantaged communities that will receive extra state funding for clean energy and energy efficiency programs

 A map of 85 disadvantaged communities on Long Island, part of over 1,700 localities marked for extra state funding to fight climate change.
New York State Climate Justice Working Group
A map of 85 disadvantaged communities on Long Island, part of over 1,700 localities marked for extra state funding to fight climate change.

Around 85 communities on the list are on Long Island which includes the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s territory in Southampton, and the Unkechaug Nation’s territory in Brookhaven. Tribal members have spoken out against the neighbors they have been grouped with. In an interactive map released last week by the state’s Climate Justice Working Group, the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and Hampton mansions surrounding the territory have also been labeled as disadvantaged.

Tela Troge, a Shinnecock tribal attorney, said the methodology used to determine which communities made it onto the map — U.S. census tracts — was flawed.

“In Shinnecock’s case, the census tract includes not only the nation's territory, but also the territory of literal billionaires and wealthy institutions like the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and others, that are most certainly not disadvantaged,” Troge said. “And a lot of that goes back to Long Island’s deep-rooted history of segregation and redlining.”

The working group also based the map off of 45 environmental, social and health indicators, including flooding, income levels and racial demographics.

Those that fit the criteria will receive at least 35% of the total statewide spending on clean energy and energy efficiency programs in an effort to support regions most affected by air pollution and climate change.

Troge is not the only one in disagreement with the state’s mapping methodology.

Brookhaven NAACP president Georgette Grier-Key said the use of census tracts is a flawed method that has historically lacked Black, Latino and Indigenous representation.

“They didn't even consider places like Southampton, where so much cleanup went into those potato fields. I have the stories of the families who worked those potato fields,” she said. “And because of the pesticides and things they would try to put on the field to kill the cankerworm you know, how many Black and Indigenous women from Southampton had to die?”

Unkechaug territory, known as the Poospatuck Reservation, has also been named a disadvantaged community. But similar to Shinnecock, their reservation was not isolated in this designation. The territory’s surrounding area of Mastic, Suffolk County, has also been included.

Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace said that this map will not benefit his nation and he has little faith in receiving the needed funding and support.

“The state never, and I repeat never, supplies us with any resources necessary to protect our territory, our people, our families and our home,” Wallace said. “We've never received those funds. They all go to the county, to the town, to the village and to the state.”

Wallace explained that the Poospatuck Reservation is uniquely disadvantaged compared to the surrounding areas when it comes to erosion.

“Our territory is the only one that is not bordered by these artificial barriers of protection against the erosion,” he said. “So as a consequence of our natural boundary, we suffer from erosion at a greater rate than all the other areas.”

Wallace said that the Unkechaug Nation has had no dialogue with the state and was not informed about this map.

Wallace and Troge both recently attended a climate rally in Albany, New York, to voice these Indigenous concerns and ask the state for more government-to-government consultation about climate law.

“New York state does not center Indigenous voices, Indigenous wisdom, Indigenous guidance,” Troge said. “And so we're not given a seat at the table to make these kinds of decisions and because of that a lot of the knowledge of stewardship of the region is lost.”

Wallace spoke at the rally about the responsibility to protect the earth for future generations.

“The state of New York only sees the earth as a resource. We see it as a sacred, life-giving force. So to do harm to the Earth is to do harm to ourselves,” Wallace said.

This story has been corrected to identify Harry Wallace as the chief of the Unkechaug Nation, instead of former.

Maria Lynders is a news fellow at WSHU, working to cover Indigenous communities in southern New England and Long Island, New York.