Finally Some Good News For The Unkechaug Nation

November 10, 2009

The Unkechaug Nation of Long Island has been under attack lately, but at least it now is well on its way to obtaining federal recognition as a Nation.  In a ruling last month, U.S. District Court Judge Kiyo Matsumoto for the Eastern District of New York said the Unkechaug Nation meets the Montoya test for tribal sovereignty.

The “Montoya ” criteria are taken from Montoya v. United States, a 1901 U.S. Supreme Court case that established the test of Indian tribe sovereignty.  Under Montoya, a tribe must establish:

1. The people must be of a similar race.

2. They must be united under one leadership or government.

3.  They must inhabit a particular, though ill-defined territory.

The tribe successfully satisfied that criteria. Reading that opinion today, it’s a wonder the case is used to assert Native American rights. Discussing what it means to use the term “nation” in the context of Indian tribes, here’s what Justice Brown wrote in the majority opinion: ” The North American Indians do not, and never have, constituted ‘nations’ as that word is used by writers upon international law, although in a great number of treaties they are designated as ‘nations’ as well as tribes…Owing to the natural infirmities of the Indian character, their fiery tempers, impatience of restraint, their mutual jealousies and animosities, their nomadic habits, and lack of mental training, they have as a rule shown a total want of that cohesive force necessary to the making up of a nation in the ordinary sense of the word.”

Nonetheless, last month’s ruling may smooth the way for federal recognition, which could result in an opportunity to obtain more land. Back in 1700, the tribe was granted 175 acres, but it only owns 55 acres today.

The Unkechaug still have their problems. For years the tribe has refused to pay sales tax on cigarette sales, as have other tribes in New York.  The State, now facing a major fiscal crisis, is seeking enforcement of the sales tax laws.  Two weeks ago a tribal member was charged by the Suffolk County District Attorney with evading New York State cigarette taxes.  A crackdown will curtail a major source of the tribe’s income.

Also, there has been some internal squabbling.  A tribe member has challenged Chief Harry Wallace’s “blood rights” to be deemed part of the tribe.

If you’re interested in learning more about the tribe, read this short history, which can be found at the Poospatuck Smoke Shop’s web site.

{ 1 comment }

Philip Kirschner May 25, 2010 at 12:52 am

I am sick and tired that we are being raped. Native Americans have more right to these lands and benefits than any other group. Stop persecuting them

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