New York: Global warming threatens Native Americans on Long Island

Posted6 August 2022, 10:21

New YorkGlobal warming threatens Native Americans on Long Island

The Shinnecocks have lived on New York Island for 130 centuries. Today, the habitat of their last 1600 representatives is seriously eaten away by the rising waters.

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According to Shavonne Smith, government official for the Shinnecock Nation, the coast in Southampton has receded 45 meters in a matter of decades.

AFP

Half of the 1,600 Shinnecocks are settled on a 320-hectare self-governing reserve east of the Long Island peninsula, in Southampton.

Half of the 1,600 Shinnecocks are settled on a 320-hectare self-governing reserve east of the Long Island peninsula, in Southampton.

AFP

The modest villages of the Shinnecocks built on the edge of the Atlantic are directly threatened by rising sea levels, erosion and the multiple storms that sweep through the Hamptons region at the end of summer.

The modest villages of the Shinnecocks built on the edge of the Atlantic are directly threatened by rising sea levels, erosion and the multiple storms that sweep through the Hamptons region at the end of summer.

AFP

Decimated by the first European settlers in America, the last Shinnecock Native Americans of the paradisiacal region of the Hamptons, north of New York, are now threatened by another scourge: global warming and rising sea levels. The tribe has lived on the New York island of Long Island for 13,000 years. Pushed back and expelled from their lands from the 17th century, with the arrival of Europeans, then in the 19th century by the American authorities, there are no more than 1,600 of them, only half of whom are settled on an autonomous reserve of 320 hectares in east of the peninsula, in Southampton.

Today, their modest villages and dwellings built on the edge of the Atlantic are directly threatened by the rise in the level of the ocean, erosion and the multiple storms that sweep the region from the end of the summer. “A whole people who have always lived here are facing a terrible reality: the obligation to move,” summarizes Tela Troge, a lawyer for the tribe.

Millionaires as neighbors

The Shinnecocks are, like many Native American and Native American tribes, officially recognized by the US federal government. Their Southampton reserve is a stone’s throw from mansions and buildings with disproportionate surfaces, valued at tens of millions of dollars, for American and foreign multimillionaires: it is the wealthy jewel of the Hamptons, with a worldwide reputation.

There, we stroll past electrified gates and gates, through the hamlet of Shinnecock Hills, home to an ultra-popular golf course built on land the tribe believes stolen since 1859. And what little territory remains in Shinnecock hands is now threatened by global warming, rising waters and the nibbling of the coast.

“We see the erosion. What was land is now water.”

Ed Terry, 78 year old Shinnecock

At 78, Ed Terry still makes traditional jewelry with shells picked up on the sand: he remembers very well that as a child, the beach was much wider and the ocean more distant. “We see the erosion. What was land is now water. It’s as if the sea were coming at us”, breathes the old man, sculpting a shell to make an earring.

Houses and graves threatened

According to environmental studies quoted by a Shinnecock Nation government official, Shavonne Smith, the coast in Southampton has receded 45 meters in a few decades. According to her, 57 houses must be moved and even some graves in the ancestral cemetery of the tribe are threatened.

She is also alarmed at the “huge and stressful” impact of a forced move inland on a population “so dependent on water”. The Shinnecocks predict that sea levels will rise 1.3 meters by the end of this century, with ever more frequent and destructive storms and floods. Like hurricanes Sandy in October 2012 (44 dead and $19 billion in costs, according to New York City), and Ida last September (at least 91 dead in the northeastern United States ).

Sunken lands by 2040?

New York climate change experts are also very pessimistic. “Studies show that by 2040 there is a 100% chance that the entire Shinnecock Nation will be swallowed up after a storm,” says Professor Scott Mandia, of Suffolk County Community College, Long Island. And those “who are the least responsible” for climate change are “those who suffer the most”, protests the specialist.

However, the Shinnecocks, who traditionally live from fishing and farming, are determined not to disappear. In an attempt to battle the elements, an oyster shell reef has been built on the beach, large rocks and fences have been put up there, and grass has been planted to keep the sand from advancing. “We are a strong people, we will survive”, wants to believe Ed Terry, the jewelry manufacturer. Admirable efforts, acknowledges Professor Mandia, but the Shinnecocks are “only buying time” before their land is completely uninhabitable.

(AFP)

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