The Shinnecock Indian Nation has begun operating one of a pair of electronic billboards along Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays on May 24, 2019. Credit: John Roca
Since the Shinnecock Indian Nation erected an electronic billboard on its sovereign territory in Hampton Bays in late spring, the tribe has drawn both support from national organizations like the National Congress of American Indians and grief from local and state detractors.
A week before the nation erected the illuminated sign — which we call a “monument” — along Sunrise Highway, local motel owner and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman opposed it, and he was not alone. Many of the thousands heading east this apple- and pumpkin-picking season may have seen the sign, which underscores a new phase in the ongoing efforts by Shinnecocks to assert their rights as a federally recognized tribe on a reservation with limited economic development potential.
The sign, which runs paid local ads, is really part of an American tradition: to join the capitalist majority, to create economic self-reliance and be entrepreneurial — an American ideal. Yet historically minority efforts to create economic opportunity often have been thwarted by government and the public, all while many Americans complain about Indians’ reliance on social services.
The entirety of the sign, now part of a lawsuit in state Supreme Court, is on our sovereign land. Sovereignty — worth remembering during Native American Heritage Month — is intended to allow tribes to manage and control their own affairs, and operate without intrusion or oversight […]