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Unkechaug Indian Reservation

Table of Contents
Introduction
History
Translation and Language

Introduction

The Unkechaug Nation maintains a sovereign relationship with the State of New York, other Indian Nations in the United States and Canada and other foreign powers. The Unkechaug Nation is located on the Poospatuck (“where the waters meet”) Reservation in Long Island, NY.

Under the provisions of colonial laws and later under the New York State Constitution (Article 12) the State of New York formally recognized the Unkechaug Nation of Indians in the 18th century. 1500 acres of land that had been long held by the Unkechaug and that continued from an original land agreement entered into with the King of England and the Unkechaug in the 17th century was set aside for the exclusive use of the Unkechaug. Today, that allotment has been stripped down to 55 acres; nevertheless, the affinity of the people to the land is as strong as in the past, if not even stronger today. The total population of tribal members, families, and extended relations is 450 of which approximately 250 reside on the Poospatuck Reservation. Housing density, and occupancy levels are unacceptable when measured against the rate of population growth and available land as well as the number of tribal members who want to return to their traditional homeland. The Unkechaug are faced with a rate of population growth greater than the national average and an increased demand for tribal services. Housing is an important priority but efforts to expand housing for tribal members are blocked by a lack of land. The Unkechaug are committed to increasing the land base in order to meet the needs of their members. 1

History

1650s

As the first English settlers arrived in the 1650s, the tribe occupied several thousand acres in what is now the southern half of the Town of Brookhaven and have a well documented history from prehistoric times to the present.1

1750

Rev. Azariah Horton is preaching at Shinnecock and Poosepatuck.2

1790

Rev. Paul Cuffee, of Shinnecock descent, is ordained at the Poosepatuck Reservation.3

1791

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison visited Poospatuck in 1791 on two separate accounts. Jefferson enlisted the help of Unkechaug women to record a vocabulary of their language. There were also brief accounts of the Unkechaug spring ceremony called June Meeting, but not much more was written about the tribe.

Contemporary

Unkechaug has, over the centuries, often been used interchangeably with “Poospatuck,” the place name for the reservation on Poospatuck Creek. Today, they live on a small reservation along the northern bank of Poospatuck Creek on Long Island in Suffolk County, New York.

1958

Unkechaug tribal member Juanita Langhorn Mayo printed an eight page mimeograph on Unkechaug history.

1983

The first professional scholar to publish a historical account of the Unkechaug was Ellice Gonzalez. In 1983 the National Park Service, which supervises the Fire Island National Seashore facility that borders the Unkechaug Reservation at Poospatuck funded her research, which traced the Unkechaug history from prehistoric times to 1984.4

1988

Donald Treadwell (Lone Otter) wrote a memoir entitled Turtle People: The Unkechaug People of Spirit Island that was never published.

1992

Lone otter publishes My People, The Unkechaug at Kiva Press in Holland, though not widely circulated and currently out of print.

2007

Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug, with expert witness Professor John String of Southampton College, represents the tribe in the Gristede’s Foods v .Poospatuck Nation federal civic court case – charging that the Unkechaugs had engaged in unauthorized sale of untaxed tobacco products over the internet, telemarketing, and printing ads.

The case was dismissed through a compilation of documents tracing the Unkechaug history from prehistoric time until 2009 by Professor John Strong which later became the material for The Unkechaug Indians of Eastern Long Island, A history by John Strong, 2011.

The case also demonstrated the criterias for common law federal recognition for the tribe, though the Unkechaug are still only State Federally Recognized.5

2009

Bernice Guillaume contributed important studies of the Poospatuck School (1991) and the role of Unkechaug women (1998).

 

  1. John Strong, The Unkechaug Indians of Eastern Long Island – A History, 2011, pp. xi
  2. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 7
  3. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 8
  4. John Strong, The Unkechaug Indians of Eastern Long Island – A History, 2011, pp. xii
  5.  http://www.ncsl.org/research/state-tribal-institute/list-of-federal-and-state-recognized-tribes.aspx , 2017

Translation and Language

Unkechaug translates to people from beyond the hill.

The language spoken on Long Island and in southern New England are all part of the Eastern Algonquian language family.1 The Unkechaug language, for example, shares a vowel pattern with such northern New England languages asAbenaki and Micmac.2

Thomas Jefferson collected the most extensive surviving vocabulary taken directly from Unkechaug speakers during a visit in 1791.3 Three other fragments of the language were recorded from native Unkechaug informants.

Of Jefferson’s 202 words, there were only eleven verbs, the rest being nouns and numbers. The nouns included names of animals, plants, parts of the human body, gender, natural phenomena, religion and geographic features.

In 1874, Henry Clinton visited the Unkechaug Reservation and spoke to an unidentified Unkechaug of fifty years old. He recorded;

oak fungus – punksole

snake – skuk

land turtle – metchik

thank you, sir – to bi ni

In 1903, Mesh (moses) Bradley, an Unkechaug elder, repeated the words for snake and turtle to archaeologist Mark Harrington as he was excavating a village site near the Shinnecock Reservation.4

In 1932, a year before passing, Martha Maynes, an elderly Unkechaug woman, gave several words to Frank Siebert Jr, however Siebert published only one of these words;5

torep – sea turtle

In 2017, Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace, with Stephanie Fielding of Mohegan and Tina Tarrant of Shinnecock, launched  a language immersion class hosted by Stony Brook University.

  1. Goddard 1978
  2. Costa 2007, pp. 96
  3. Boyd 1982, 467-70
  4. Levine and Bonvillain 1980, 22
  5. Rudes 1997, pp. 5

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