Members of the Shinnecock Nation on the South Fork have long considered themselves canoe people.
Their reservation in Southampton, bounded by Montauk Highway and Shinnecock Bay to the north and south, is right on the water.
But this week they’re venturing beyond their ancestral waters, taking a major step to cross Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound to reconnect by water with the members of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes in Connecticut.
A group of six paddlers in a 43-foot-long Hawaiian-style outrigger canoe paddled to East Marion Friday afternoon, slept at Orient Beach State Park Friday night, and left for Connecticut Saturday morning.
Chenae Bullock, a member of the Shinnecock Nation, spearheaded the effort to canoe from the Shinnecocks’ West Woods land just east of the Shinnecock Canal to the Connecticut reservations on the shores of the Thames River, just north of New London.
She began planning the trip after taking part last year in the Annual Tribal Canoe Journey, which has been held on Swinomish land in Washington State for 24 years.
“This hasn’t been done before,” she said earlier this week of her tribe’s trip to Connecticut. “This is something that we need to do, as eastern Algonquin tribes, to unite us.”
The outrigger canoe isn’t a type the Shinnecocks would have historically used but Ms. Bullock said there are few trees on Long Island that are large enough to be suitable for making traditional dugout canoes.
Throughout their journey, they stopped to hold ceremonies. At West Woods Thursday night, they were singing and drumming, with Shinnecock elders in attendance to give the rowers their knowledge, love and wisdom, said Ms. Bullock.
They rowed Friday morning from West Woods to Conscience Point in North Sea, the site of the Shinnecocks’ first interaction with European settlers, where they met with non-native leaders.
“We want to break any negativity we’re having with non-natives that live here now,” she said.
As of 3:30 p.m. Friday, the canoers were visible from Greenport, near Bug Light at the end of the state park. But they decided instead to land in East Marion, in part because of the threat of severe thunderstorms. From there, they portaged the canoe across the land in order to leave from Truman Beach on Long Island Sound early Saturday morning.
At the state park, Ms. Bullock’s family was waiting near the playground Friday afternoon, hoping to see the canoe round the point as the thunderstorm moved closer. They had not yet received word that the paddlers had landed in East Marion.
“She’s very determined, when she sets out to do something,” said Ms. Bullock’s grandmother, Thelma D. Lee. “She really wants to learn about her heritage and culture.”
“She wanted to start this here with the young people, to embrace other nations and heal all the tragedies we’ve gone through, so there’ll be healing for all people. It will help us be a stronger nation,” she added.
She said about half the crew on this canoe voyage is from the Pacific Northwest but more young people on the reservation are interested in participating in the future.
“I think there’ll be more when they see what they’ve done,” she said. “It’s an adventure. We’ve never done anything like this. Not in a canoe. This is a first. There will be more.”
The last step of their voyage will be a homecoming. The Shinnecock Nation has a close relationship with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes and when they arrive at the Mashantucket Pequot land, they will share gifts, stories, dances and songs, and then invite their sister tribe to row with them to Mohegan land.
“Our tribes have been related since before the Europeans came here. We have our own network. This is what we have been doing for thousands of years,” said Ms. Bullock earlier this week. “Nowadays we take the ferry and go to their reservation and they come over here when babies are born, when there are deaths, marriages, birthdays and graduation parties. We’re very, very close and related as people. We speak the same language.”