A federal judge has set a deadline for the Interior Department to decide when it will resolve the long-sought federal status of the Southampton-based Shinnecock tribe following a last-minute challenge of the efforts.
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At the U.S. District Courthouse in Central Islip Wednesday, Judge Joseph F. Bianco told government lawyers that the department’s decision must be made by July 30.
The Shinnecock Indian nation planned to celebrate its first day as a federally recognized tribe Monday, July 19, after they were told in June that the Interior Department had approved the tribe’s application for federal recognition, pending a 30-day comment period.
But a Connecticut-based gaming group and members of the Montaukett Tribe filed challenges with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals last week contending the Shinnecocks “failed to meet all the criterion for federal recognition.”
Matthew Hennessy, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs, said the Interior Department failed to consider that the Shinnecocks have received financial backing from a Detroit-based casino operator over the past several years.
“It is clear that this recognition process has been hijacked by wealthy casino developers solely for their benefit and as a result, a huge part of Connecticut’s economy is at stake,” Hennessy said in a statement. The group has not identified what businesses support the coalition.
Shinnecock representatives have been in talks with officials in Nassau and Suffolk counties about locations to potentially build a casino, which becomes possible for the tribe once it is federally recognized.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulry said he did not believe the appeals board was operating under any specific timetable for a decision.
But Judge Bianco, noting the Shinnecocks’ effort has been repeatedly delayed, said he expected the appeals board to commit to a date for a ruling by the end of the month. If that doesn’t happen, Bianco said he would consider an application by the tribe for a judgment in favor of the Shinnecocks’ application.
“Both sides have gone too far to have a delay,” Bianco said to a courtroom jammed with more than 100 Shinnecock members, many of whom were dressed in traditional Indian clothing, including feathered headdresses.
“Every single New Yorker should be upset at what Connecticut just did, what this group just did,” said Lance Gumbs, senior trustee of the Shinnecock tribe. “They’re talking about protecting 27,000 jobs in Connecticut, they’re talking about their taxes over their, what about New York’s taxes? What about New York’s jobs?”
“We are going to get recognized,” Gumbs said. “It’s just a matter of time now.”
-With Associated Press