- The drums
set the mood as members of the Shinnecock Nation ceremoniously walked into the meeting room at Town Hall Friday afternoon carrying the flag of their nation and a newly minted seal depicting their rightful place among the hamlets and villages that make up the entirety of Southampton Town.
The event was a long time coming. "We felt like the forgotten people," Lance Gumbs, senior trustee and vice-chairman of the Shinnecock Nation said after the plaque hung high on the wall was unveiled in a special ceremony on Friday afternoon. "Today we are not forgotten."
Fred Bess displays the circular painting created by tribe member David Martin.
The Shinnecock Nation seal has been added to the Town Board meeting room wall commemorating the long-lobbied campaign to achieve New York State recognition as a governing body, a distinction that was formally adopted this week.
Town Supervisor Linda Kabot
held hands in a ceremonial gathering celebrating the occasion as a traditional Shinnecock song of celebration was sung to a respectful standing room only crowd, heads bowed in reverent silence. One thing was certain, this was a momentous occasion.
"This has been a long time coming," Fred Bess, chairman of the Shinnecock Nation said before attending a reception hosted by Supervisor Kabot in the corridor outside the town board meeting room. "In fact we have been waiting since 1640. Now its 2008, so how many years is that?" Bess asked pointedly.
Both Bess and Gumbs credited Supervisor Kabot with the inclusion of the Shinnecock Nation status in present day town government. "Kabot met with us while she was campaigning," Gumbs explained, "She showed a real interest in bringing us into the process at Town Hall."
The Nation's seal design was created by David Martin, director of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Museum, in 2001. Depicting symbolic Shinnecock values, it now hangs on the Town Hall meeting room wall along with the seals of the villages of Sag Harbor, Sagaponack, Westhampton Beach, Southampton. Quogue, and Westhampton Dunes.
Fred Bess, Supervisor Kabot and Lance Gumbs flank the Tribe's ceremonial drummers who entranced the crowd into a reverent silence befitting the momentous occasion recognizing the Nation as a state authorized government. The state's action puts the Nation on equal footing with the other villages in Southampton.
The Shinnecock Nation's seal illustrates the tribe's history in Southampton which harkens back to pre-colonists times when wigwams provided shelter for the tribes people. The seal also features the wampum used by the tribe members as a form of currency. Wampum beads were made from clamshells strung together in strips resembling belts that were used as currency.
"A double lined wampum belt would seal a deal," Bess said as he described the traditions that still inform the Shinnecock Nation today. "The sun is rising in the east and setting in the west," Bess continued as he explained the seal's painting.
Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst speaks with tribal elder Elizabeth
Thunderbird Hale after the ceremony. Supervisor Kabot hosted an informal
reception in the hallway outside her office after the meeting.
The turtle in the center of the artist's composition represents the 13 tribes of Algonquin Nation living on Long Island long before the first English settlers arrived.
"Shinnecock means level land," Gumbs said. "We are the people of the level land. The two purple whales painted at the bottom of the seal reflect the importance of fishing in the lives of the Shinnecocks. "We were whalers," Bess said.
The deep purple used in the painting, as well as in the clothing, blankets, jewelry and wampum created by the people of the Shinnecock Nation derives from the deep purple found inside the upper most portion of the hard shell clams or quahogs used as currency.
In homage, Gumbs wore a purple vest and silver bolo with a purple center made from polished clamshell, while Bess was equally attired for the occasion with a beaded bolo and a string of wampum on his jacket pocket.
Both Bess and Gumbs spoke about the need to achieve economic self sufficiency for the Shinnecock Nation. "We are working to create more housing and improve health care. We want to raise standards for our people."
Both men were clearly pleased with their reception at Town Hall however belated it was. "All the other administrations ignored us," Gumbs added.
Standing in silence as the drummers played ceremonial music are Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, Councilman Dan Russo, Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, Supervisor Kabot and Councilwoman Anna Throne- Holst.