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Suffolk County renames aquaculture program after Shinnecock condemns it

Shinnecock Kelp Farmers
The Nature Conservancy

Suffolk County has changed the name of its new aquaculture program after it was condemned by members of the Shinnecock tribe.

It was called SCALP, which stood for the Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Program. The acronym refers to a term that is deeply offensive to Native Americans.

The Shinnecock Kelp Farmers released a statement Wednesday calling the term disrespectful and insensitive. They said the term glorifies the history of scalping. The term refers to a practice that was used against Native Americans by European settlers.

The nonprofit is a group made up of Shinnecock tribal members and local environmental advocates. They plant kelp in the hope that it will help eliminate the carbon and nitrogen from the waters of Shinnecock Bay.

In the statement, the group called on Suffolk County to immediately halt the SCALP program. Tela Troge, of the Shinnecock Kelp Farmers, said the county changed the name shortly after announcing the program.

“It was an extraordinarily fast turn around and I think the county did recognize how offensive, dehumanizing and really genocidal the term ‘scalp’ is to native people,” Troge said

Troge said the program is now referred to as the Aquaculture Lease Program (ALP) on the county website. Changes were also made about the history of shellfishing. Information was added to include the Shinnecock and other Indigenous peoples to the contribution, which Troge said was previously left out.

“Shinnecock people have been shellfishing, cultivating, and collecting seaweed in the Peconic Bay for at least 13,000 years. Besides the really offensive name it was a furtherance of erasure,” Troge said.

As for the program itself, Troge said it fails to include partnerships with Indigenous communities. She said Suffolk County is attempting to lease land and underwater areas without consultation or consent from Indigenous communities.

“I think there's a lot of history that needs to be acknowledged. I think there's a lack of consultation of indigenous people. This is our ancestral homeland,” Troge said.

The county Department of Economic Development and Planning, Division of Planning & Environment, which runs the program, has yet to respond to requests for comment.

According to the county’s website, New York state approved approximately 110,000 acres of underwater lands to Suffolk County for shellfish cultivation in 2009. The county is authorized to prepare, adopt and implement a shellfish aquaculture lease program for the area in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay.

Troge said the federal and state governments have actively consulted with tribal nations, unlike the county. She said she first learned about the program by looking at GIS maps of the area. Troge said most of the waters surrounding the tribe’s Westwood territory were part of the program. Her concern is that the county might benefit economically from leasing the land.

“There is this real question of do they have the jurisdictional authority to lease out lots to non-Indian people. Especially when we have very well recorded court cases showing that the Shinnecock Nation never conveyed any type of underwater land rights,” Troge said.

In the statement, the Shinnecock Kelp Farmers stated a demand for co-management of lease areas with Shinnecock Kelp Farmers, acknowledgment of Shinnecock underwater land rights and meaningful consultation with tribal nations.

“Shinnecock Kelp Farmers call on Suffolk County to immediately halt the SCALP program and engage in genuine dialogue and partnership with Indigenous communities for the proper stewardship of these lands,” they said.

The program has been rolled out in phases, with periodic reviews through public comment. In 2022, Suffolk County was authorized by New York state to add seaweed to the existing ALP program to ensure that it is compatible with other uses in the bays.

Now, the county is gathering input from the public on the proposed program. There will be an open house on April 10 to discuss the proposed program and to hear from the community. The meeting will be held at Cornell Cooperative Extension at 423 Griffing Avenue, Riverhead, NY, from 5 to 7 p.m.

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