Destroyed by the first European settlers in America, the last Shinnecock Native Americans in the Hamptons paradise north of New York City are now threatened by another scourge: global warming and rising sea levels.
The Shinnecock tribe has been living on New York’s Long Island for 13,000 years.
Pushed back and expelled from their lands since the 17th century with the arrival of Europeans, then in the 19th century the American authorities left no more than 1,600 of them, only half of whom were settled on an autonomous reserve of 320 hectares in the east of the peninsula, in Southampton.
Today, their modest villages and homes, built on the edge of the Atlantic, are directly threatened by rising sea levels, erosion, and the many storms that have engulfed the region since late summer.
– “Awful Reality” –
“All the people who have always lived here are faced with a terrible reality: the need to move,” Tela Troge, a lawyer from the Shinnekok tribe, sums up for AFP.
Ed Terry, 78, maker of traditional shell jewelry, says erosion has changed the coastal landscape he knew as a child. (AFP – KENA BETANCUR)
The Shinnecocke, like many Native American and Native American tribes, are officially recognized by the US federal government.
Their Southampton Preserve is a stone’s throw away from mansions and buildings with disproportionate surfaces, valued at tens of millions of dollars, for American and foreign multimillionaires: this is the rich pearl of the Hamptons with a worldwide reputation.
There, we’ll walk in front of electrified gates and gates through the village of Shinnecock Hills, home to an ultra-popular golf course built on land the tribe has claimed has been stolen since 1859.
And the small area that remained in the hands of Shinnecock is now threatened by warming, rising water levels and coastal erosion.
– “We see erosion” –
At 78 years old, Ed Terry still makes traditional decorations from shells picked up on the sand: he remembers very well that in childhood the beach was much wider, and the ocean – further.
The self-governed tribe of Shinnecock Native Americans has been living on Long Island for about 13,000 years (AFP – KENA BETANCUR)
“We see erosion. What was earth is now water. As if the sea is coming at us, ”the old man exhales, molding an earring from the shell.
Southampton’s coast has receded 45 meters in a few decades, according to environmental studies cited by Shinnecock state official Shavonne Smith.
According to her, 57 houses need to be moved and even some of the graves in the tribe’s family cemetery are under threat.
In an interview with AFP, Ms Smith is also alarmed by the “enormous and stressful” impact of forced inland displacement on a population “so dependent on water.”
The Shinnekoks predict that sea levels will rise by 1.3 meters by the end of this century, leading to even more frequent and destructive storms and floods.
For example, Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 (44 deaths and $19 billion in costs according to New York) and Ida last September (at least 91 deaths in the northeastern United States).
New York climate change experts are also quite pessimistic.
– Sunken Glittering Roosters –
“Studies show that by 2040 there is a 100 percent chance that the entire Shinnecock Nation will be swallowed up by a storm,” Prof Scott Mundia of Long Island’s Suffolk County Community College told AFP.
And those “who are least responsible” for climate change are “those who suffer the most,” the expert argues.
Coastal erosion due to global warming is eating away at a small 320-hectare Shinnecock Indian Reservation at the Hamptons in Long Iceland, north of New York (AFP – KENA BETANCUR)
However, the Shinnecocks, who traditionally live off fishing and farming, are determined not to disappear.
In an attempt to fight the elements, a reef of oyster shells was built on the beach, large stones and fences were installed there, and grass was planted to keep the sand from moving forward.
“We are a strong people, we will survive,” Ed Terry, a jewelry manufacturer, wants to believe.
A remarkable effort, Professor Mandia admits, but the Shinnekoks are “only buying time” before their land becomes completely uninhabitable.