Drumming for Justice on Fire Island

 Organized by the Montaukett Indian Nation, this felt like a departure from other Native American festivals one might attend on Long Island. There were no trinkets or wares to purchase and no fry bread to consume. This was in part because there was a competing event elsewhere, but lack of such distractions helped keep the focus on why we gathered at the lighthouse on this day.

Moderator Madelyn Miller Jackson teaching children in attendance about the Drum Circle.

 “It’s about getting people to know we exist,” said Sandi Brewster-walker, executive director of the Montaukett Nation.

The Montaukett Women Circle Dancers performing the Eastern Blanket Dance.

 And yet at one time the Montauketts had one of the largest tribal territories on Long Island, stretching from Orient Point to Hempstead.

Unlike sister Long Island Native American tribes, such as the Shinnecock or Unkechaug Nations further east, the Montauketts exist off-reservation. They also do not presently hold either federal or state recognition status. Brewster-Walker’s voice quivered with emotion as she retold a fateful ruling in the first decade on the 20th century in which Judge Abel Blackmar declared that the tribe had died out – even though there were dozens of them sitting inside and in the hallways of his courtroom alive and well – rendering both land claims as well as their legal status null and void.

Brewster-walker knows her tribe as well as its history. She served as Deputy Director of the Office of Communications during the Clinton Administration and has gone on to lead an accomplished career of civic engagement ever since.

 This day was to celebrate how this tribe has prospered since that bogus court ruling over a century ago. Hundreds of Montauketts reside on Long Island now, and more across the United States. Indeed, they do exist.

 Program Moderator Madelyn Miller Jackson was a formidable presence as she led the audience in a Four Direction blessing, as well as a nurturing one as she encouraged the children in attendance to participate in the drum circle.

 The Montaukett Women Circle Dancers were a beautiful presence dressed in full regalia as they performed their Traditional Dance, followed by the Eastern Blanket Dance.

Young Joseph Badamo of the Nansemond Nation performing the War Dance.

Special guest dancers included 6-year-old Marilena Badamo of the Nansemond Nation who performed a Jingle Dance, as well as her older brother, Joseph, who performed a War Dance. Towards the end of the ceremony, their father, Tom Badamo, spoke powerful words about the importance of being acknowledged. As former Chief of the Nansemond Nation in Suffolk, Virginia, he understands the journey as his tribe finally gained federal recognition status in 2018.

 New York State Senate Bill S6889, which has passed in both the Senate and Assembly houses, would restore state recognition to the tribe and right the wrong done over 110 years ago. All it needs now is a signature from Governor Hochul. Two prior versions of this bill died on the desk of former Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Montauketts are watching closely, as are many fellow New Yorkers who have signed a petition presently circulating to urge attention to this matter.

 “We gain nothing when that bill is signed,” explained Brewster-Walker. “It comes with no special benefits. It’s a shame this has gone on for so long.”