More than a dozen members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation withstood the cold choosing to step in by camping out. They're protesting on the tribal grounds of Sovereignty Camp at West Woods until Thanksgiving, which the group considers a national day of mourning.
Members of the encampment hope that the state government will get the message and ease up on what they believe are state roadblocks to the tribe's economic advancement.
"We'd rather be home and warm but we have to make a few things clear," Margo Thunderbird said. "We are demanding that New York state immediately drops its lawsuit against the nation and secondly Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo meet us here on sovereign land and then we will talk about many things."
The lawsuit stems from the tribe's 61-foot electronic billboard dubbed the Shinnecock Monument Project along the eastbound side of Sunrise Highway. It's the first of two signs. The second one is expected to be erected right outside the encampment. Money made from billboard advertising will go to social programs to help improve the quality of tribal life for members.
"We're out here to make sure that over the course of this month which is Native American Heritage Month, that this project can be completed," tribal attorney Kelly Dennis said.
A spokesperson for Cuomo's office told FOX 5 NY that the administration will continue to work with the Shinnecock Nation on a host of issues they've raised.
Town of Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said that land preservation is a top priority and he will continue to work with Shinnecock leaders on meaningful economic development on the land at the encampment.
"Every time the Shinnecock Nation tries to do something, it seems like there are forces that try to prevent us," said Brian Polite, the chairman of Council of Trustees of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.
The group, which plans to follow COVID-19 protocols, has raised more than $35,000 to cover the costs during the month-long encampment. They vow to protect and support Shinnecock sovereignty.
"We will stay here until our demands are met," Thunderbird said.
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