Saving the Seventh Generation: The Shinnecock Casino

BC ISLEMANContributor IIJuly 14, 2010

UPDATE: The US government announced it was dismissing the Connecticut group's motion on October 1, 2010. This opens the door for the Shinnecock to begin planning casino sites. We should know soon whether they will work with the Islanders and Charles Wang.

UPDATE: A Connecticut-based group--possibly representing Foxwoods Resorts--has filed a motion to prevent the federal recognition for the Shinnecock being granted. Thanks to NYI Fan Central for providing the link to the Newsday article. The article is worth reading and has some interesting comments--including a Shinnecock leader threatening to go to war. As I note in my comments to NYI, I suspect that this is a desperation ploy and that it will be quickly set aside. Time will tell.

Save the seventh generation. That philosophy has ennobled the Shinnecock people throughout thousands of years of existence. The idea is that there might be three, four, five, or even six generations of a family living at once, but not seven. The entire community must dedicate itself to that seventh generation.

The strength of that ideal has been tested time and again in the 370 years of European-American domination of their ancient homeland on Long Island's South Fork.

For thousands of years, the Shinnecock sustained their culture through the harvesting of the ocean's bounty, especially the now-endangered right whale pictured above.

The English came in 1640 and barely 60 years later had reduced the Shinnecock to tenants on their own land. Their sometimes deadly struggle with the right whale served no longer to sustain them but to enrich their English masters. Even the religious rituals connected with that struggle were taken from them and replaced with alcohol.

Perversely, the golf course that sports fans associate with their name is on land taken from them under false pretences. The Shinnecock were too impoverished to sustain a legal challenge to the theft.

Since 1978, European-Americans have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars denying the connection of the modern Shinnecock with their ancestors. Finally, on June 14, 2010, the Obama administration relented and gave the Shinnecock the federal recognition they so desperately need.

The Shinnecock have tried one venture after another to replace the subsistence culture stolen from them centuries ago. Leasing land for farming resulted in pesticide pollution of tribal drinking water. A shellfish hatchery was closed by brown tide and pollution. Even the annual Labor Day Pow Wow is at the mercy of the elements.

Casino gaming seems to be the one proven way for the Shinnecock to sustain themselves. With the end of the mandated 30-day comment period today (July 14, 2010), the Shinnecock can at last reclaim the future for that seventh generation.

This event has been widely anticipated by NY Islander fans. If the Shinnecock select the controversial Lighthouse development project as (one of) their casino site(s), it would enable Islander owner Charles Wang to finally begin that troubled endeavor after years of delay.

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray has been resisting the Lighthouse project for years. Buoyed by her 2-1 election romp last Novermber, Murray has just issued her counter proposal that would drastically reduce the scope of the project. Wang and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano have described Murray's "vision" as "unviable" as far as supporting the renovation or rebuilding of the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum which is critical to keeping the Islanders in Uniondale.

If the Shinnecock select the Lighthouse development, Murray would no longer be able to block Lighthouse. Wang and partner Scott Rechler would be working with the Shinnecock, their development partners Gateway Casino Resorts, and New York State. Wang and Rechler would no longer need to seek permits from Murray and the Town of Hempstead.

Islander fans have been busy high-fiving each other in anticipation of the Shinnecock riding to their rescue and outwitting Murray and her allies. They have neglected one crucial consideration: the Shinnecock.

The Shinnecock have been feuding with the Town of Southhampton for 370 years. Now that they have at last overcome the obstacles placed in their path by that township, do they really want to make an enemy of the Town of Hempstead and the various groups opposing Lighthouse? It would seem questionable at best.

Also, the Lighthouse project would be more limited than alternative sites in Suffolk County. If the Shinnecock and Gateway are seeking a Foxwoods type resort with golfing and other amenities, they are unlikely to choose Lighthouse.

The alternatives? Proposed sites at the Aqueduct and Belmont race tracks in Queens seem questionable. More likely are about a dozen possible sites in Suffolk. They include the defunct Shoreham nuclear plant site, Calverton, and Shirley.

One item of note: One of the key players in the Gateway entity is the Ilitch family. They are known, among other things, as the owners of the Detroit Red Wings NHL franchise. I do not know what relationship if any the Ilitch family has with Wang. I do know that before a Shinnecock-Lighthouse deal was allowed to be consummated, it would be scrutinized every which way but loose to be sure that the NHL connection did not unfairly benefit Wang.

So how will the Shinnecock decide? Honestly, I do not know. It would not seem to be the slam dunk for Lighthouse that some think. In the end, regardless of how it affects Lighthouse, I hope that the Shinnecock will do the very best they can for the seventh generation.