Getting to Know Southampton’s Native American Community
The area’s heritage is found in Indigenous-owned shops, restaurants, and events.
BY KERRI ALLENSeptember 21, 2020
“You can say I walk in one moccasin and one shoe,” says Sagkompanau Mishoon Netooeusqua. That’s modern life for this descendant of the Montauk Tribe and member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, whose reservation abuts the tony hamlet of Southampton, New York. Also known by her non-traditional name, Chenae Bullock, she had a pre-COVID calendar that saw her flying to Atlanta for a corporate digital strategy session one morning and back to New York for a sacred smudging ceremony in full Native regalia that evening.
Netooeusqua’s mother was born and raised “on the rez,” where about half of the residents live below the poverty line. It’s a five-minute drive to one of the wealthiest sections of the Hamptons, where estates handily sell for $20 million. The area’s Indigenous-owned businesses rely heavily on summer beachgoers as well as attendees to the annual Shinnecock Labor Day Powwow, which often draws more than 10,000 people.
Part of the Shinnecock’s uphill battle to win travelers’ attention is simple awareness of their presence. “Our existence is our resistance,” LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a Lakota leader visiting from North Dakota, reminded the crowd at last October’s Indigenous People’s Day New York celebration. “We are alive!” Only one percent of New York State residents identify as American Indian, and it’s even lower in Suffolk County, where the Shinnecock Reservation and Southampton are located.
While both the Shinnecock and Montauk called this land home for centuries, only the Shinnecock is recognized as an official Native American Tribe, which provides federal funding for healthcare and education and seats on governmental bodies such as the National Congress of American Indians. Still, local Indigenous businesses owners can’t afford prime Hamptons retail space. They rely on tourists to actively seek their restaurants and shops, which bolster the Shinnecock nation’s economy. There aren’t yet Indigenous-owned hotels, wellness centers, or surf clubs on Long Island, but there are myriad ways to experience and support Native cuisine, art, and history in this area.
Where to Find Indigenous-Owned Restaurants Near Southampton
Raindrop’s Café does double-duty as a community gathering space and farm-to-table restaurant. Since its opening last spring, the venue has hosted events as diverse as an Indigenous doula birth circle, a Democratic committee meeting, and a Game of Thrones watch party. Owner Bryan Polite wears two hats as an entrepreneur and the current tribal leader of the Shinnecock Nation. Raindrop’s social media profiles describe it as “a forum for progressive thoughts and positive energy,” which can start over a cup of coffee (roasted on the reservation using techniques passed down over generations) or Indigenous-American fusion food like venison Philly cheesesteak.
The Hamptons Tasty Bites food truck opened in early September, slinging hearty Indigenous soul food. Meanwhile, the popular on-reservation eatery Shinnecock Lobster Factory is renowned for some of the best lobster rolls in the Hamptons, while also operating a thriving catering business. Run by tribe member Lance Gumbs and celebrity chef Marco Barrila, the once-seasonal restaurant is planning to stay open as far into the winter as possible in this unusual year.
Where to Shop in Southampton and the Shinnecock Reservation
Without the boon of income from powwows and street fairs, artisans like Tohanash Tarrant sell handmade jewelry on Instagram and at socially distanced pop-ups. As a child on the reservation, Tarrant explains that “many of our play objects were handmade from natural materials—shells and seeds.” That translates into the custom items she makes today, like wampum pendant necklaces crafted from quahog clam shells.
A medicinal cannabis dispensary and wellness center designed by Bridgehampton’s sleek T-Arch Studio, is slated to open in 2021. The 7,500-square-foot complex will be Indigenous-owned and operated, leaning into the tribe’s agrarian history and belief in plant-based healing. A retail shop will offer items like CBD oils and cannabis gummies.
How Travelers Can Learn More About Shinnecock History
Sagkompanau Mishoon Netooeusqua’s own Moksektu Consulting offers private and small-group cultural tours of the area. Active explorers can sign up for the early-morning Indigenous Perspectives Canoe Tour, launching from Conscience Point, the spot where English colonists first encountered the Shinnecock in 1640. Back on dry land, the Montauk Indian Museum houses grand murals depicting scenes of pre-colonial Native life along with locally found artifacts. They also host archaeology festivals throughout the year, where visitors can try basket-weaving, blow-gun hunting, or wampum-making.
For travelers who haven’t spent time with Native Americans, visiting a reservation can feel like crossing a forbidden cultural line. It’s not. “It’s all about relationships, and it starts with healing,” Netooeusqua says. “Travel can open people to experiences that have been blocked.”