Shinnecock Bay in Southampton on July 26, 2022 is being eroded by coastal erosion due to global warming (AFP/KENA BETANCUR)
Exterminated by America’s first European settlers, the last of the Shinnecock Native Americans in the paradisiacal Hamptons, northern New York, are now threatened by another scourge: global warming and rising sea levels.
The Shinnecock tribe lived on Long Island, New York, 13,000 years ago.
They were expelled from their lands from the 17th century with the arrival of Europeans, then in the 19th century by the American authorities there were no more than 1,600 of them, only half of them settle in an independent reserve of 320 hectares. East Peninsula in Southampton.
Today, their villages and modest dwellings built on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean are under direct threat from the rising ocean level, erosion and the multiple storms that have swept the area since the end of summer.
– ‘A terrible reality’ –
“All the people who have lived here have always faced a horrific reality: the duty to act,” sums up to AFP Tela Troje, a lawyer from the Shinnecock tribe.
Ed Terry, maker of traditional scalloped jewelry Shinnecock, explains on July 26, 2022 that the erosion has changed the coastal landscape he knew as a child (AFP/KENA BETANCUR)
Shinnecocks, like many Native American and Native American tribes, are officially recognized by the US federal government.
A stone’s throw from the mansions and disproportionately-roofed buildings, valued in the tens of millions of dollars, to American and foreign millionaires: the affluent Hamptons gem with a global reputation is the Southampton Reservation.
There, stroll past the electrified gates and gates, through the small village of Shinnecock Hills, which has a very popular golf course built on land deemed stolen by the tribe since 1859.
What remains of the small land in Shinnecock’s hands is now threatened by warming, rising waters, and coastal erosion.
– ‘We see erosion’ –
At the age of seventy-eight, Ed Terry still makes traditional jewelry with shells picked on the sand: he remembers well that as a child the beach was much wider and the ocean far away.
Native Americans lived the Shinnecock autonomous tribe on Long Island about 13,000 years ago (AFP/KENA BETANCUR)
The old man breathes as he sculpts a shell to make an earring: “We see the erosion. What used to be the earth is now water. It is as if the sea is coming towards us.”
According to environmental studies reported by Shinnecock Nation government official, Shavonne Smith, the coast in Southampton has receded 45 meters within a few decades.
According to her, 57 homes and even some graves in the ancestral cemetery of the tribe must be moved under threat.
In an interview with AFP, Ms Smith is also concerned about the “tremendous and stressful” impact on a population “which is heavily dependent on water” of the forced relocation inland.
Shinnecocks expects sea levels to rise by 1.3 meters by the end of this century, with increased frequency and destruction by storms and floods.
Such as Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 (44 deaths and $19 billion in costs according to New York City) and Ida last September (at least 91 dead in the northeastern US).
Climate change experts in New York are also very pessimistic.
– The Sunken Shinecox –
“Studies show that by 2040, there is a 100% chance that a storm will engulf the entire Shinnecock nation,” Professor Scott Mandia of Long Island’s Suffolk County Community College told AFP.
The specialist argues that the “least responsible” for climate change are “those who suffer the most”.
Shinnecock Bay, in Southampton, United States, on July 26, 2022 (AFP/KENA BETANCUR)
However, the Shinnecocks, who traditionally live off hunting and farming, are determined not to disappear.
In an effort to combat the elements, a reef was built on the beach, large boulders and fences were placed there, and grass was planted to prevent sand from advancing.
“We are a strong people, and we will live,” wants Ed Terry, the jewelry maker.
Professor Mandia acknowledges an admirable effort, but the Shinnecocks are “only buying time” before their land becomes completely uninhabitable.