Indian Tribe Members Come to Court, Seeking "Justice"

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    Bright Indian feathers and head dresses were on display Wednesday in a place you wouldn't expect -- U.S. Court in Central Islip.

    More than a hundred Shinnecock Indians visited court in search of what one tribal leader called "justice." But that justice was delayed again for the Southampton tribe that has been seeking federal recognition since 1978.

    U.S. District Court judge Joseph Bianco told the tribe and its lawyers he didn't have the authority to dismiss two challenges to the Shinnecocks' federal recognition.

    That federal recognition would pave the way for the Shinnecocks to both open a casino and also seek federal aid for housing, health care and education. Now however, the challenges threaten to delay that recognition for years.

    "We have been patient but we're tired," said tribal council member Gordell Wright. "It's disgusting what we have to go through as a people."

    Last month, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs granted the Shinnecocks federal recognition; but before that decision became final, two groups came forward to challenge it. One, the "Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs," has claimed a Shinnecock casino would damage Connecticut's gaming industry.

    The Shinnecocks have openly questioned the legitimacy of this group, asserting that it was formed only after the tribe was granted preliminary federal recognition.

    "Think about greed because that's what this is about- greed," said tribal member Reginald Wright.

    It's unclear who created the Connecticut Coalition; but the state's two casinos have reportedly denied involvement.

    "We are going to investigate who is behind this group," said tribal council member Lance Gumbs.

    The other challenge to the Shinnecocks has come from a splinter faction of another Long Island tribe.

    While U.S. Judge Bianco couldn't dismiss the challenges Wednesday, as the Shinnecocks asked, he did urge the federal Department of the Interior to expedite a final decision for the Shinnecocks.

    To that end, the department must submit a letter within ten days on whether it will set a deadline to end the process.  If the department refuses, the judge himself could set such a deadline.

    In the meantime, the Shinnecocks' efforts to improve life on and off their Southampton reservation have to, again, be placed on hold.

    Applications for federal grants and loans for a tribal court, housing and health care can not be reviewed until the question of federal recognition is resolved.

    "My daughter attends the University of New Mexico law school and right now, she can't get the federal monies due her," said tribe member Denise Silvadennis.

    "All these things have to be put on hold because of these frivolous claims," added tribe member Lance Gumbs.