As an enrolled member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, it is incredible to look back at our history in photographs and celebrate our resilience and hope for the future. Being so close to the point of first contact and early European colonization, we have survived famines, epidemics, forced migration, forced assimilation, boarding schools, erasure — and yet despite all of this, we (as well as many Indigenous groups) still need to remind our neighbors and the world that “We Are Still Here.”

— Jeremy Dennis, Curator

“Shinnecock Indians, 1884, Long Island Rail Road.” Front row, left to right: Frances Bunn, Anna Bunn Kellis, Mary Brewer, “Grandma O” or unidentified, Harriet Walker Hudson. Back row, left to right: Possibly Luther Bunn, Joshua Kellis, James Bunn, Unidentified, Possibly Wickham Cuffee, Unidentified. (photographer unknown)

The Shinnecock Indian Nation is one of the oldest self-governing tribes in the State of New York and was formally recognized by the United States federal government as the 565th federally recognized tribe on October 1, 2010. In their Algonquian language, the Shinnecock name roughly translates into English as “people of the stony shore.” Today, there are over 1,500 enrolled tribal members, and about half of the Shinnecock membership live on the Reservation at Shinnecock Neck.

Shinnecock artist Denise Silva-Dennis, “Not the Last of the tenacious Shinnecock Indians” (2021) (photo by Jeremy Dennis)

Present-day Shinnecock tribal members can claim their lineage to their ancestral landscapes for more than 10,000 years. Still, by 1884, Southampton residents had decided that Shinnecock people were destined to die off. European colonists perpetrated this vanishing race narrative to undermine the sovereignty of Shinnecock and other Tribal Nations to claim valuable lands that they hoped would soon free up. Shinnecock artist Denise Silva-Dennis wrote about her work, “Why tenacious? Because against all odds, the Shinnecock people have managed to hold onto 800 acres of ancestral territory since the 1640 English Immigrant invasion that started at Conscience Point. That’s 382 years.”

Shinnecock Presbyterian Church Dinner, ca. 1950’s; among those present: extreme upper left, Skip Hopson. Lower left, left to right: Edna Walker Eleazer, Nancy Smith, Jean Arch, Unidentified, Eliza Beaman, Tony Beaman, Charles Smith standing, Lulu Hunter, Harry Williams, standing, Unidentified, Camille Smith, Fred Bunn, Alice Bunn. Back table: Lincoln Smith, Mrs. Thompson, Daisy Smith, Lillian Harvey. Caption by David Bunn Martine. (photo courtesy Rogers Memorial Library – Digital Collections, photographer unknown)

Land theft was a reality that the Shinnecock Nation endured. In 1859, the Shinnecock hills had been stolen through bribery, forgery, and deceit. Despite an immediate resistance and uproar and years of clear evidence of the unlawful seizure, the land in question still belongs to Southampton town. 

In the 1980s, a formal attempt to regain this sacred landscape began. Shinnecock was assured that with Federal Recognition, Federal courts would back the Shinnecock Nation with recovering their land. Despite successfully gaining Federal Recognition in 2010, Shinnecock still awaits a New York State governor who will reconcile this history of land theft.

Shinnecock’s Nunnowa celebration at the Shinnecock Community Center, 2019. Nunnowa translates to ‘the time of harvest’ and is celebrated each year a week before the national Thanksgiving. A midwinter gathering helps stave off winter bores and sadness, and at least one traditional dish of beans and corn is served up hot to drummers and dancers from the community and other tribal nations. (photo by Jeremy Dennis)

Researchers investigated Shinnecock’s past during this 30-year process to build a “Historical Overview and Historical Indian Tribe” report, looking at documents dating to first contact in 1640. This effort made Shinnecock’s continued presence and long lineage available to the public and created new connections within the Shinnecock Nation through family lineages and shared history. Traditionally, Shinnecock people have always maintained a solid connection to the past through the memories and stories of their ancestors and the long relationship to their ancestral lands. Among these passed-on traditions is the Nunnowa feast in the Fall (often described as Indigenous Thanksgiving for Shinnecock people), June Meeting Celebration, the annual Shinnecock Labor Day Weekend Powwow.

“Shinnecock Women At A Pageant On The Reservation On August 19, 1920.” Addie Cogsbill, Mary Emma Bunn, Rose Kellis, Anna Bunn Kellis, Adela Santoya. Digital PML, colorized. (photo courtesy Patchogue-Medford Library, photographer unknown)
Shilo Newcomb, Jayce Newcomb, and Kim Cause at the Shinnecock Powwow, 2015 (photo by Jeremy Dennis)
Kelly Dennis, “Medicine Wheel Musháyu” (2003) (photo by Jeremy Dennis)

As Shinnecock Nation looks forward toward a hopeful future, there is also so much to celebrate and acknowledge in its past. To prepare for that future, we must learn from our collective story and gather insight to move forward. Shinnecock, after all, can make claim to one of the longest ongoing presence on our homelands which if nothing else, is a source of pride.


Presentation & Discussion:

YouTube video

Jeremy Dennis (b. 1990) is a contemporary fine art photographer and a tribal member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton, NY. In his work, he explores indigenous identity, culture, and assimilation....