Friday, March 6, 2015

The Montaukett Indians of Eastern Long Island

John A. Strong’s The Montaukett Indians of Eastern Long Island does not have nearly the “heart” or detailed connection of his latest volume on Long Island Indians, the Unketchuags.  However, this book provides keen insights into one of the only four Long Island Indian groups to survive into modern times as a tribal and social entity.

Like all native groups, the Montaukett were subject to all manner of challenges with the arrival of Europeans in the seventeenth century.   Yet they seemed poised to be the most powerful group on Long Island due to their alliance with Lion Gardiner, an early and influential English settler.  Yet by the early twentieth century, a court had declared they were no longer a tribe, and they lost all title to tribal lands on Montauk Point.  How did this happen?

Strong believes it was the relative isolation of the Montuakett from English and American settlements. Unlike the Shinnecock and Unkechaug, who had lands near white villages, the Montauketts lived largely isolated from whites in an area primary used for cattle grazing.  As such, they were never used as a source of cheap labor by white land owners, and “protected” by powerful local families as were the Shinnecock and Unkechaug.  They failed to secure a reservation, unlike the two groups just mentioned, and did not have a base to promote social cohesion.  Despite that, the Montuaketts continued to act as  a group, and are now applying for tribal status.

Strong is the go-to scholar for the history of Long Island Indians.  His books are a testimony to the strength of these native groups who survived for so long in a largely hostile atmosphere. 

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