NY - In New York, a native tribe fights to save its land from climate change
Southampton (United States) (AFP) – In the Hamptons, New York's playground for the rich and famous, a Native American tribe is battling with the latest threat to what's left of its traditional land: climate change.
The Shinnecock, whose name means "people of the stony shore," have lived on Long Island for 13,000 years.
Their villages stretched along the island's eastern end before land grabs by European settlers and later US authorities reduced their territory to an 800-acre (1.25 square-mile) peninsula.
That low-lying land is now shrinking due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion, and making it increasingly vulnerable to more powerful storms.
"You're looking at a situation where an entire nation of people who have been here for essentially forever are faced with a devastating reality that we may have to relocate," Tela Troge, a Shinnecock attorney, told AFP.
The Shinnecock Indian Nation is a self-governing, federally recognized tribe of approximately 1,600 members.
Roughly half live on its reservation, which juts out into Shinnecock Bay beside Southampton, where multi-million-dollar mansions sit behind electric gates.
Also next door is the hamlet of Shinnecock Hills and its famous eponymous golf club, land the tribe says was stolen from them in 1859.
Warming temperatures are causing seas to expand and rise, eating away at the reservation's coastline.
Ed Terry, who makes traditional Shinnecock jewelry out of shells found on the beach, remembers the sand going out much further when he was a boy.
"You can see the erosion. Where the land was is now water. It's like the sea is coming to us," the 78-year-old told AFP, as he sculpted a mussel shell to be worn as earrings.
Some parts of the shoreline have already receded 150 feet (45 meters), according to studies cited by Shavonne Smith, the nation's environment director.
She says 57 homes may have to be relocated soon and bodies possibly disinterred from the tribe's coastal cemetery and moved elsewhere.
"If you're talking about taking a people that are so dependent on the water -- for spiritual health, recreational and sustenance -- and now moving them further inland, you're talking about a very huge, stressful, emotional, dynamic shift in who we are," Smith told AFP.