Shinnecock Nation tribal member Serena Lee said she wasn’t asking for Southampton Town to give her people the stars and the moon, she was just looking to heal. And with a unanimous vote from the town board to purchase a Shinnecock Hills property on Hawthorne Road, she’s hoping that healing can begin.
“Reality is, you took everything, and we’re asking for a little something back — life is more than money,” she told the town board during a public hearing October 9 prior to the vote. “We’re not discrediting anyone’s history, or this town’s history, but we’re saying it’s about time that we are recognized as the founding fathers.”
The town voted 5-0 to purchase the land, where the remains and a flask thought to be from a tribal leader were found during a construction dig in August, from owner Konstantin Beladidze of KB Southampton LLC with $450,000 from the Community Preservation Fund, which is financed through a two-percent tax on real estate sales.
The tribe has agreed to contribute an additional $50,000 to the deal, money that will pay Beladidze to return the land to its natural state, though Lee criticized this portion of the agreement.
“We’re asking you to pick up the tab,” she said. “It’s not your fault, but correct those that have faulted us in the past. You’re in a position to do that.”
Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the town is forbidden by law to pay more than fair market value for any piece of land it’s looking to purchase. The cost of this parcel is 4.6 percent higher than the fair market value, but the higher price is justified due to the property’s cultural significance, according to the resolution approving the purchase.
“We can’t pay more than that. Otherwise it’s considered an illegal gift of taxpayer money,” Schneiderman said.
But many in attendance sided with Lee. “The Shinnecock Nation should not have to buy back stolen land,” Southampton resident Tony Ernst said.
People who would like to help the tribe pay for its share of the purchase can donate to their GoFundMe effort at www.gofundme.com/ytver.
Steve Anderson said it would be a small price to pay. “Everywhere you look is their land. Everywhere,” he said. “They welcomed us with open arms and we’ve lied, we’ve stolen, we’ve cheated, we’ve raped, we’ve murdered, we’ve pillaged, and there’s nothing any of us can do to erase that. I’d like to encourage everyone to change their perspective. We have an opportunity here to stand and be counted and bring about change. This is a finite planet with infinite possibilities if we would love and respect each other instead of dividing and conquering and picking apart the differences.”
Regardless, tribal member Chenae Bullock said she was appreciative that the town has been transparent throughout the process.
“Things like this have been happening all around the world,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes when your emotions are struck — when your ancestors are dug up — but through the teachings from our elders we’re doing our best as young people to be stewards, to be young leaders.”
Several other non-tribal members stood with Ernst and Anderson, saying it’s a step forward in bringing people together to try to reconcile the crimes of history. With all that stored injustice, Shinnecock member Shane Weeks said this does help heal the wounds.
“It’s really a good thing to see the awareness being spread and the willingness to accept what we have to say and what we have to offer,” said Weeks, who is also a Southampton Town Arts and Culture Committee member. “Today, we’re able to be who we are freely. It’s a historic time for the relationship between the Shinnecock Nation and Southampton Town, so in the words of a once illegal language, ‘tabutne,’ or thank you.”