Shinnecock Indian Nation tribal members plan to protest the USGA outside the U.S. Open next week.

Tribe To Protest at U.S. Open

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation — using the upcoming U.S. Open to highlight their continued land claim fight — will protest the championship every morning near tee-off time.

The group, which is calling itself the Shinnecock Hill Protectors, has been working with Southampton Town Police to secure the corner of Montauk Highway and Tuckahoe Road as a designated freedom of speech area where they will protest from 6 to 7 AM — encompassing the first tee-off time at 6:30 AM — from June 11 to June 16.

Kelly Dennis, an attorney working with the group, said the protest will focus on the tribe’s aboriginal territory, which includes Shinnecock Hills and the golf course area, where the tribe says there are grave sites. The tribe filed land claims in 2005, but its effort was shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Shinnecock Hills Golf Club use of a logo featuring Native Americans in tribal headdress regalia also has long been a source of contention.

“So, we are using this as a platform to bring awareness to people about the important history and basically the struggle that we continue to pursue in order to have proper redress of our claims,” Banks said.

The group, which is led by former tribal Trustee Nichol Dennis-Banks, will be joined in “solidarity” by representatives from other nations such as the Lenape, Crow, and Cherokee, as well as the Latino community, according to Banks. She could not say how many people are expected to attend the week-long set of demonstrations.

The demonstrations will include an opening prayer, the performance of a drum song, a moment of silence, tobacco offering, and guest speakers. Banks said she is hoping for a peaceful protest.

“It is going to be a beautiful thing,” Banks said. “We are also going to be speaking on the injustices that are done to minorities as a whole, not just the Native American people. Everyone is going to be speaking on their different topics and it’s just us standing in solidarity and bringing awareness to what goes on here on the East End. Hopefully, we will see some change. The outcome is that we want change. We want action because we have been talking about this for a long time.”

In a separate dispute, the tribal council is in negotiations with the United States Golfing Association over economic benefits from the championship. Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs said the council was upset the tribe was not included in plans for the championship and was left out of the economic benefits associated with bringing the event to the East End.

At past U.S. Opens held at Shinnecock, the tribe has contracted with the USGA to provide parking and hospitality tents for patrons. This year, the USGA offered a spot inside the merchandise pavilion, but there were too many requirements for the tribe to meet in such a short amount of time, making it impossible for them to pursue the endeavor, Gumbs said.

The council did have a productive call with USGA officials and they are “looking to see where that leads,” he said.

USGA Spokesman Craig Annis said officials have “enjoyed what we think are productive conversations with the council,” and they are hoping to see the tribe’s involvement in the championship, including in the opening ceremony, youth day, and the ceremony at the 18th hole.

He said the tribe was offered “premium placement” at merchandise kiosks that would feature a synopsis of the tribe’s contributions to the course and highlight a signature item, such as beadwork like a necklace or bracelet, but it turned it down. He said one possibility discussed is the operation of a golf simulator, which, according to tribe members, could prove “very lucrative,” but it has not been finalized.

As to whether there will be a resolution to the discussions and planned protest, Annis said, “We want to celebrate the U.S. Open with them by our side. That is what we have been working toward and we are hopeful that we will get there.”

peggy@indyeastend.com