In a year when the nation’s diversity has been in the forefront, the Southold Indian Museum will be offering an opportunity during Native American Heritage Month to connect with Long Island’s original, indigenous cultural and ethnic groups.

From 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 22, visitors to the two-floor museum can see displays of arrowheads, wampum jewelry and Algonquian ceramic pottery — and they are encouraged to bring their own archaeological “finds.”

“It’s a way of seeing that native people are still here, that we’re very much a part of the community,” said museum trustee Jay Levenson, who calls Long Island’s Native Americans “the visible invisibles.”

“Any object that they think might have been Native American — an arrowhead, a tool, an adze, a pestle,” will be classified and dated to a period by an archaeologist, said Levenson, 54, of Sound Beach, who identifies as a Haudenosaunee of the Mohawk Nation and has European ancestry.

Levenson plans to set up a display table of his collection of authentic bead work, drums and snapping turtle rattles. He will also answer questions about Native American life, past and present. (Of course, social distancing, face-covering requirements and other COVID-19 protocols will be in place.)

Native Americans have been living on Long Island for at least 10,000 years — and were the original inhabitants here, tribal officials say. Yet, according to the U.S. census population estimate from 2019, just 0.6% of 1.48 million Suffolk County residents and 0.5% of 1.36 million Nassau County residents identify as Native American.

Many are from the Shinnecock Indian Nation, one of the oldest self-governing tribes in the country, with about 1,200 members residing on a 900-acre reservation in Southampton, according to the tribal office. The 55-acre Poospatuck Reservation in Mastic is home to about 200 to 250 members of the Unkechaug Nation, according to former chief Harry B. Wallace.

As with most Long Islanders, the indigenous population is diverse, including people who are biracial or multiracial.

“I see myself as native, but I’m also Black,” said Monique Fitzgerald, 41, a social worker who lives in Bellport. Fitzgerald traces her maternal ancestors to the Setalcott Indian Nation of the Setauket area.

“Not living on a reservation, it’s hard to maintain your culture,” Fitzgerald said. “You don’t have those traditions passed down from generation to generation because everybody’s spread out.”

Native American Heritage Month, observed in the United States every November, is a time to celebrate those “traditions and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people,” according to the website of the National Congress of American Indians.

Here are five Long Islanders who are working to improve Native American lives through the arts, political action, advocacy for native rights and the preservation of native languages.

“Iron Shirt,” his first feature, which is currently in production, is “about a child superhero, and how our oral histories and our legends play a part in who this child becomes,” said Benton, 39, an Ojibway who lives in Calverton.

It’s a follow-up to “Looking Glass,” a 20-minute 2018 film Benton scripted, directed and starred in. Shot on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation with a $1,000 budget and a cast of friends and family members, “Looking Glass” became a festival favorite, picking up the Special Jury Award For Original Concept this summer at the Bend Film Festival in Oregon, and an Award of Merit and Honorable Mention last year at the AFI World Peace Initiative in Cannes, France; it’s available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Benton was born in Manitoba, Canada, but he was raised from age 9 on the Shinnecock Reservation after his mother, Sherry Blakey-Smith, married former tribal trustee Charles K. Smith II. He began working on film projects as a high school student at the Ross School Media Center in East Hampton. A 2007 Sundance Film Festival fellowship helped him develop the script for “Looking Glass.”

Benton has been showing “Looking Glass” at Native American events, where he’s also gained fame as a traditional singer and dancer. During Q&A sessions, he’s often asked about the film’s jazzy soundtrack, which honors his maternal grandfather, Art Blakey Jr., the son of the jazz great and an accomplished musician in his own right. Said Benton: “I wanted to include his art in my art, to acknowledge my upbringing.”

As a onetime aide to former U.S. Rep. Timothy Bishop of Southampton and a candidate in her own right (in 2019 she ran unsuccessfully for the Southampton school board), Johnson knows the importance of the decennial head count, which is used to apportion federal aid and representation.

After launching the initiative in Riverhead with the Suffolk County Native American Advisory Board, which she cofounded, Johnson worked from her home computer to alert members of the Shinnecock, Unkechaug and other native communities on Long Island about the impending September census deadline.

“We used social media as a platform to educate people about the importance to respond,” she said. She recruited her daughter, Summersnow Stith, 19, and a half-dozen other Shinnecock youth to record TikTok-style videos, which were edited together into a five-minute public service announcement posted to Twitter and Instagram.

Johnson, who this spring completed a master’s degree in social work at Stony Brook University, continues to work with young people as director of Blossom Sustainable Development, a not-for-profit anti-substance abuse program on the Shinnecock Reservation.

“I’m putting together education materials about historical trauma, and how it impacts drug and substance abuse, domestic violence and unemployment,” Johnson said. “Our young people nationally are at the highest risk of suicide, alcohol and drug abuse compared to any other ethnic group,” she said.

Johnson explained that the distrust of outside governing agencies over such historical injustices as forced assimilation, broken treaties and destruction of American Indian culture often results in a lack of respect for authority and high rates of incarceration among Native American men and women. An analysis of 2010 census data by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, for instance, found the incarceration rate of Native Americans/Alaska Natives to be more than double that of white Americans.

She’s also considering another run for public office. “I’ve had quite a journey with my health,” said Johnson, who is visually impaired as a complication of Type I diabetes. “But glory be to God, I’m still able to give back to a community that I cherish and love so much.”

Source: NewsDay