Sunday, August 28, 2011

Despite Calls to Evacuate, Shinnecock Refuse to Go Off-Reservation

At Hamptons Indian Reservation, Most Remained
Metropolis @

By Robbie Whelan

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y — The Shinnecock Indian Reservation, an island of independence amid the luxury of the Hamptons, is home to 600 members of one of the oldest recognized Native American tribes in the country. More than 500 remained in their homes through the storm, despite the reservation’s low-lying geography.

The danger for those who stayed comes from the reservation’s location on a peninsula jutting out into Shinnecock Bay, some of which is below sea level.

According to security personnel on the reservation, only four or five families left the reservation. Most preferred to wait out the storm at home.

“They figure, we made it through 1938,” when a Category 3 hurricane battered Long Island, “we’ll make it through this one. My grandfather’s 90, and he’s not going anywhere,” said one security officer, who declined to give her name.

Randy King, one of the tribe’s three trustees, who along with a 13-member tribal council serve as leaders of the community, said that residents were urged to evacuate, but few did.

“The people here have a strong affinity for the land. We live by that,” he said. “They’ve lived here for thousands of years and they don’t want to go anywhere. We’re certainly not the only community where people want to stay in their homes.”

So far, there have been no reports of reservation residents forced out of their homes by flooding or wind damage. But as Irene batters Long Island, the risk of flooding grows by the hour.

Firefighters and tribal officials canvassed the reservation Saturday advising residents of the mandatory evacuation order in nearby Southampton. Residents who chose to stay were asked to sign a tribal document, according to Beverly Jensen, a Shinnecock spokeswoman and reservation resident who chose to stay behind.

“Every step of our lives has been dangerous,” she said. “We’re thinking: it’s a storm, and we prefer to go through it in our homes.”

Ms. Jensen said reservation residents who live along the water could experience “tremendous flooding problems” because the reservation, located directly between Shinnecock Bay and Southampton Village, is “in line to bear the brunt of any flooding.”

Those who did comply with the voluntary evacuation order Saturday made their way to a Red Cross shelter set up at nearby Hampton Bays High School.

One reservation resident, who declined to give his name, said the order to evacuate wasn’t given until late Saturday afternoon. Other low-lying areas in the Hamptons received voluntary evacuation notices Friday night; most of those orders became mandatory by Saturday morning.

Lars Clemensen, a Hampton Bays school district official who is manning the Red Cross shelter, said he had seen a big influx of families from the reservation between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday.

The Shinnecock Nation, because it is a federally recognized tribe, is under the federal government’s jurisdiction. Mr. King said that the tribe has been cooperating with local relief efforts as well as FEMA teams, and has set up its own emergency-operations center on the grounds of the reservation.

So far, the community has seen flooded basements and some flood-related debris, but Mr. King is most concerned about heavy storm surges expected Sunday.

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