Updated: Dec 29, 2019
The other day I attended the screening of Conscience Point at the Southampton Arts Center, as a part of the 2019 Hamptons International Film Festival. I am grateful to have these two platforms as a conduit of arts in culture right here in my community. There were many fabulous films to be sure but ‘Conscience Point’ is the one I was moved by. From the film’s website, ‘Exposing a painful, quintessentially American geography, CONSCIENCE POINT unearths a deep clash of values between the Shinnecock Indian Nation and their elite Hamptons neighbors, who have made sacred land their playground.’
Being a resident of Hampton Bays, which borders the Shinnecock Hills and the reservation, you would have to have your head buried in the sand to not see or feel the tension between the ‘white man’ and the Shinnecock Indians. Especially when the white man is in the form of a developer or local government official and surly attitudes of many community members complaining about the native’s use of the land to open smoke shops and advocate for gaming facilities. I was aware, to a very shallow degree, of the injustice to the Shinnecock Nation.
This film exposes the deep history of this injustice, including the government building highways and train tracks through their land, building endless McMansions, and a golf course on sacred burial sites. It is interesting to note that it was never in the tradition of the Shinnecock to claim they owned the land. So when settlers started ‘claiming’ it and government became more organized and structured, assigning deeds and rights to the land it was all very complicated. Rather than deal with the complexities, the land was seized and the natives were ‘relocated’. The Shinnecock felt the land was theirs to care for and not to claim ownership. Now people own it and spray chemical fertilizers that run off into the waters in their own backyards which are resulting in irreversible damage to the local ecosystem. The film interviews a local fishermen, Chip Marren, that has lost his livelihood due to man’s pollution of the bays. Unfortunately, we all know he is not alone. Developers build houses that become assets to those who are unaware of this dark and disturbing history.
For you Hamptons folks, this film is hyper local filled with beautiful bay footage and appearances with local names such as farmer Bill Hasley, author Corey Dolgen and the dreaded developer Joe Farrell and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schinerdman. After the film, filmmaker Treva Wurmfeld, Shinnecock Activist in the film Becky Hill-Genia and Shinnecock Business Owner Lance Gumbs amongst others got on stage to answer questions from the audience. One audience member stood up and said, ‘this film should be shown in every school.’ I agree and add that every high school history/social studies curriculum should include this film. Education and awareness of Native injustice is so important in reconciling and going forward. I did not personally take land from the Shinnecock, however I can take a stand to acknowledge the injustice that occurred before I was born and still continues today. Naming that injustice is the way we can come together and create legislation and practices that are healing and make amends and as my favorite spiritual teacher and candidate for president Marianne Williamson says, mea culpa. Mea Culpa is latin for an acknowledgment of one’s fault or error.
I for one want to set the example for my children, that no we are not perfect, we make mistakes and when you do make a mistake you fix and clean it up. I am ready to stand with my generation and do the work to clean up the past so we can have the beautiful future we want.