Life is rough for the downtrodden. One minute, you’re driving your luxury town car to your summer home in the Hamptons, just trying to survive without thumping the kid in the backseat complaining about their dying iPad; the next, you’re bombarded with a sign reminding you you’re on stolen land.
Such was the reality for hundreds of one-percenters who flocked to the Hamptons for Memorial Day weekend. As the New York Times reported on Monday, the official kickoff to the summer season gave way to a political billboard battle going on between the wealthy beach-goers and the Shinnecock Indian Nation. (Until the fourth paragraph of the Times article, they are simply “a local Native American tribe.”)
You can read the Times’ story for the full details, but basically, the Shinnecock billboards are on their reservation land, which means they need only a permit from their tribal council of trustees. In addition to bearing the Shinnecock seal, the billboards are being used as an economic opportunity for the tribe, as they are renting the space for advertisements and pumping the money back into serving the tribal community—roughly 60 percent of the sovereign nation’s citizens live at or below the federal poverty level.
Of course, the well-to-dos of the nearby Town of Southampton are having none of it. Just 11 years after the town blocked the tribe’s efforts to open a casino, town supervisor Jay Schneiderman told the Times that Southampton is now opposing the billboards on the grounds that the signs “violate the spirit of our local ordinances meant to protect the rural character of the town.” (Never mind, as Shinnecock vice chairman Lance Gumbs pointed out to the paper, that Southampton has no problem with cell towers or a sparkling set of condos built on sacred Shinnecock land.)
The town has appealed to the courts and the state government in repeated attempts to halt construction of the billboards, claiming the federal highway land is still subject to state control; last Friday, the state Supreme Court finally granted the town the restraining order it’d been hoping for. It didn’t affect one of the two sixty-foot billboards already completed, but hindered the construction of the second. Schneiderman, who briefly acknowledged the region’s terrible colonizing history before claiming the billboards are safety hazards, suggested the tribal nation simply “change direction and develop other economic engines.”
First, the white man killed them and took their land and instructed them to take up capitalism. Then, they said no to the casinos. Now, they say no to the billboards. It’s almost like the end goal of all this is to whittle away all the available options for Indigenous economic self-sustainability until the only option left is to be wholly dependent on the white man himself. Weird...