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Hochul again vetoes Montaukett bid for NY state recognition

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters about legislation passed during a special legislative session, in the Red Room at the state Capitol.
Hans Pennink
Associated Press
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters about legislation passed during a special legislative session, in the Red Room at the state Capitol.

Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill that would have granted state recognition to the Montaukett Indian Nation on Long Island. The decision comes months after the bill was passed by the state legislature for the fifth time.

The Montaukett Indian Tribe had been formally recognized by the State of New York until 1910, when their recognition was stripped in a court ruling. The recognition was removed when the state claimed the tribe had dispersed and “disintegrated.”

In her veto statement, Hochal cited a 1910 state Supreme Court ruling in her decision. Assemblymember Fred Thiele, Jr., sponsored the bill. This marks the second time the governor has vetoed a bill to recognize the tribe.

This means that the tribe will be ineligible for some state programs for recognized Indigenous tribes. Programs like education, health care and economic development funding.

Thiele calls the veto decision extremely disappointing. He said the court ruling cited includes dated rhetoric and incorrectly states that the tribe disappeared.

“For the governor to rely on a court decision that is probably one of the most racist court decisions in the history of New York judicial prudence is extremely disappointing,“ Theile said. “I think it added insult to injury that not only did the governor veto it but that she would rely on what was a blatantly racist decision.”

Efforts were made by the tribe in 2013, 2017 and 2018 to gain recognition. But similar bills were vetoed by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said the tribe lacked enough documentation.

“I think that it’s unfair that you would have to make them start from square one and have to prove their recognition, especially for the injury that's been caused for over a century,” Thiele said.

Tribe members have spent the last few years putting together the tribe’s complete history to provide to the governor’s office. Theile said the tribe has submitted boxes of files with information regarding their status.

Theile said the tribe had hoped that the governor would sign the bill this year. He thought the appointment of a new Deputy Secretary for First Nations was a sign of changing sentiment.

The tribe must now consider their options. It can either introduce a bill next year for the sixth time or bring litigation against the state in an attempt to change the ruling.

“I have in the past always felt that the legislative approach would have been the best but I certainly would understand if at this stage in the game, the Montauketts decided to move forward with litigation,” Theile said. “That’s their decision.”

Jeniece Roman is WSHU's Report for America corps member who writes about Indigenous communities in Southern New England and Long Island, New York.