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Jan 28, 2019 10:14 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Census Says Shinnecock Nation Numbers Are Declining; Tribal Officials Disagree

Shane Weeks, a Shinnecock member and cultural consultant, contends that the federal headcount is inaccurate because the tribe identifies enrolled members based on lineage. JD ALLEN
Feb 12, 2019 1:05 PM

A recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, the federal agency that analyzes data about the American people and economy, found that “American Indian and Alaska Native” is one of the fastest-growing population segments in the United States, with more than 6.8 million people identifying as having Native American ancestry.

However, that growth may not be reflected on the East End: The number of people who identify as members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation nationwide is in decline, the report said.

In 2000, the census counted 1,599 Shinnecock people. According to a more recent survey, that number fell to an estimated 1,244 by 2015. The Census Bureau also estimated that only 60 people lived on the reservation that year.

The federal headcount differs from internal numbers kept by the Shinnecock Indian Nation, which hint at a growing and more diverse population.

Today, 1,700 people are enrolled in the tribe nationwide, 700 of whom live on the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton, Shane Weeks estimates, according to internal numbers.

As a Shinnecock member and cultural consultant, Mr. Weeks contends that the federal headcount is inaccurate because the tribe identifies enrolled members based on lineage. He said the federal government relies too heavily on people to self-report.

During the headcount for the 2010 census, Mr. Weeks said Shinnecock people could have been dissuaded from identifying as part of the tribe after the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs required Shinnecock people to prove their lineages as part of the federal recognition process that year.

“In order for us to become federally recognized, we had to find all of the information, the birth and death certificates, and if people didn’t come up with them—like those people who don’t live on the reservation—they would not have made the cut to the feds,” Mr. Weeks said. “And there were some people who didn’t make the cut.”

The tribe’s director of enrollment, Seneca Bowen, could not be reached for comment for an exact headcount. Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs contends it’s an invasion of privacy to give out such a number—though they are submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

According to a 2013 population report to that agency, 584 Shinnecock lived on and around the reservation in 2010. Population wasn’t recorded before that year, because the tribe was not federally recognized at the time, and there hasn’t been a similar report since 2013.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not return calls seeking more information about the numbers.

The next head count by the Census Bureau is underway. To make a detailed report by 2020, the bureau will be doubling its efforts online to maximize self-response and follow up with those who do not respond.

In the past, the census was conducted through the mail—which leaves Mr. Gumbs to think the Shinnecock haven’t been accurately counted.

“What if we threw the mailers out?” Mr. Gumbs said. “Most of us don’t even have mailboxes. A lot of us that do have them out on the side of the road by the reservation. There is a whole line of mailboxes. Maybe they aren’t getting the message.”

He said that people who are Shinnecock around the country could also be identifying more closely with African-American or Hispanic-American roots as families intermarry.

“That has been a concern of ours for decades,” Mr. Gumbs said. “If you look at this historically, you go into states like Virginia, you couldn’t call yourself ‘Indian.’ You had to call yourself ‘Negro’ or ‘white.’ There has been a misidentification of Native people throughout our history. And that could still have a lingering impact today.”

Mr. Weeks said it’s important that every Shinnecock voice is accounted for. The results of the census impacts everything from how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives to the distribution of federal funds to local communities—of which the federally recognized Shinnecock Nation is one.

“The federal government needs to continue to look at us like a tribe of significant size so we can apply for certain grants that are available to federally recognized tribes to help with housing and administrative procedures,” he said. “In the federal arena—whether we opted to pursue a casino or retain fishing rights—it helps us to have a better standing.

“I hope that this doesn’t affect our funding,” Mr. Gumbs said. “There is a possibility. Funding is based on tribal enrollment. If the government looks at these numbers, which are lower than what our numbers really are, intentional or not, they can’t make the right determination and can negatively impact us.

“We will need to stay on top of this and make sure we are counted,” he added.

If anything, he said the Shinnecock population is growing strong, and should, therefore, get more funding, with at least 200 people waiting to be enrolled so far in 2019.

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I think this is a fair question. Do you have to be Shinnecock to live on the reservation? Last week some lady pulled a shotgun on workers trying to remove propane tanks and she did not look Native American. What about the gang member who ran over the truck driver delivering granite on 39 last year?
By lirider (288), Hampton Bays on Feb 3, 19 9:05 AM
It’s a fair question. Maybe go to a tribal meeting and bring it up. I’m not sure what the questions pertain to. Your best bet is actually to talk to someone on the tribal commission. Or go to their offices and ask, they will answer your questions.
By Fred s (3199), Southampton on Feb 3, 19 10:24 AM
Many Americans, of all kinds, don't return juror questionnaires, don't partake in polling calls and don't fill out census forms. It's just another right we have.
By themarlinspike (520), southampton on Feb 3, 19 9:52 AM
I’m not sure you have a right as a citizen to ignore a juror questionnaire. I know in some areas if you do not return a juror questionnaire, you will be required to present yourself at a courthouse and fill out and submit the questionnaire on a specific date. Failure to present yourself at said date is a violation of the law and you will be subject to penalties.

By btdt (449), water mill on Feb 20, 19 5:13 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By politcal pawn (120), Flanders on Feb 3, 19 10:03 AM
Did they include the members who have become 'guests of the State of NY'?
By DisgustedHamptons (57), Hampton Bays on Feb 4, 19 12:36 PM
Enrollment? How does one enroll into a tribe?
By itsamazing (224), Southampton on Feb 4, 19 3:52 PM
Elizabeth Warren can help you with that.
By NateNewtown (99), east on Feb 4, 19 11:57 PM
2 members liked this comment
I don't think she could since she never claimed a tribal identity, just native american heritage.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8065), HAMPTON BAYS on Feb 5, 19 1:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
Time for this scam to end. Drug dealing, weapons, the sale of cancer causing cigarrettes. Lance Gumbs depositing hundreds of thousands of dollars in local banks weekly to support this charade. Close it down. Crime will drop. Use your cigarrette money to buy waterfront property Mr Gumbs and pay taxes like everyone else. Your pipe dream of a casino has gone up in smoke literally. Get real. The Shinnevock Nation is in its death throes. Self inflicted not government neglect. People are tired of this ...more
By jim (48), hampton bays on Feb 7, 19 11:29 AM
Jim, is the Shinnecocks the only people who sell cigarettes?can you elaborate on the drug dealing a little bit, I’d like to hear it.as to the Shinnecocks being in death throes, I’m not buying that argument. You should go to a tribal meeting and bring up your concerns. As a sovereign tribe I’m sure they’d love your input.
By Fred s (3199), Southampton on Feb 20, 19 5:28 PM