fbpx
 
The Shinnecock Nation's billboard, once controversial to township officials, is now serving a vital public service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy photograph provided by Shinnecock Nation

SHINNECOCK NATION — Irony has its place in tribal nations holding on to their sovereignty rights.

Located some 90 miles outside of Manhattan, the Shinnecock Indian Nation serves as a gateway to the Hamptons, where the tribal nation’s neighbors live in posh mansions for the rich and famous. Last year, the Shinnecock Nation, through a joint venture with a billboard company, built a 61-feet electronic digital billboard on a right-of-way along Sunrise Highway on Long Island as a means to help build its tribal economy through advertising revenue.

At the time the billboard was erected, the Shinnecock Indian Nation faced strong resistance from the adjacent town of Southampton, which served the tribal nation with a cease-and-desist order. The town said the Nation began building the billboard without the proper local permits. As a federally recognized tribe, the Shinnecock Nation maintained because it is a sovereign nation, it did not need to even apply for local permits.

The Shinnecock Indian Nation kept building the billboard. Soon the State of New York Dept. of Transportation sought to stop the billboards from being built.

Shinnecock Indian Nation Vice President Lance Gumbs

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman opposed the billboard vigorously, according to Shinnecock Vice Chairman Lance Gumbs.  

“He is the one that pushed the state to act on our sign,” Gumbs said. “The New York Department of Transportation sued us on those bogus charges of no permits and the sign being a safety hazard.”

The State Department of Transportation and the State of New York brought a lawsuit against all seven members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation tribal council.

Still, the Shinnecock Indian Nation persisted and kept building the billboard. The state lawsuit is pending.  The billboard is operational.

Suddenly, the COVID-19 pandemic hits and it is the largest threat to public health in modern times, particularly New York, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Last night, NPR reported there were 53, 339 cases and 827 deaths in the state of New York.

Last week, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Scheiderman contacted Shinnecock Nation tribal officials to see if they would be willing to post some messages about the efforts to stop the spread of the deadly virus. He knew travelers would be passing through from Manhattan and other parts of the East Coast to find shelter in their summer homes during the in-home quarantine period.

“We thought we would turn to the billboard to help get important public health messages out, so we reached out to the tribe,” Scheiderman told Native News Online. “We wanted them to post messages such as, ‘Stay Safe – Stay Home;’ ‘Hotline 311;’ and the federal advisory that ‘recommended 14-day in-home quarantine.’”

In response to Scheiderman’s request, the Shinnecock Indian Nation said it was more than willing to assist get the important messages out to the public.  So it lit up the contested billboard with health and safety messages.  

“We had always envisioned the signs to be used as a public service announcement tool in times of emergency situations like this. The Town came to us and asked if we could put the COVID-19 information and warning PSAs up,” Gumbs said.

Schneiderman, who opposed the billboard last year, now says he would be willing to be part of negotiations that helps to end the lawsuit.

“We will be discussing the lawsuit with the state and town when this is done.” Gumbs told Native News Online late Friday night.

Earlier on Friday, Schneiderman sent a letter co-signed by three members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Tribal Council to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asking him to restrict nonessential travel to the Hamptons.

More Stories Like This

History Was Made as Nicole Aunapu Mann Became the First Native American Woman Launched into Space
Tribal Business News Round Up: Oct. 4
Hurricane Ian Slams Southwest Florida, But Mostly Spares Reservations
Department of the Interior Announces South Dakota Third Stop on Road to Healing Tour
Minnesotta Governor Tim Walz Proclaims Sept. 30 “Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools.”

Do you appreciate a Native perspective on the news? 

For the past decade-plus, we’ve covered the important Indigenous stories that are often overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the toppling of colonizer statues during the racial equity protests, to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools, we have been there to provide a Native perspective and elevate Native voices.

Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation this month to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10.  Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]