Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 34

At the Shinnecock pow-wow, held each Labor Day.

Saturday, April 11

The Shinnecock Indian nation—a group once regarded as too marginal to receive official recognition as a “tribe”—is complaining about “selfish” outsiders coming out to the East End in order to avoid COVID-19 infection. “They are taking advantage of our enclave,” says tribal leader Bryan Polite, adding “it feels like we have been invaded.” The Shinnecocks have asked New York’s governor to place restrictions on travel to the area.

But the group has a history of taking contradictory positions on outside invaders: Drivers on Sunrise Highway who cross through Shinnecock territory just west of Southhampton necessarily pass by a huge, LED-illuminated billboard erected last May that feels like it must be draining electricity from as far away as Baltimore. According to the Shinnecocks’ website: “Tribal leaders said the 61-foot twin billboards on tribal land along Sunrise Highway will bring significant revenue from advertising—reportedly in the millions each year.” The Indians were “intent on cashing in on the tourist trade,” reported New York television station WCBS. Construction of the advertising tower was temporarily halted last spring by a New York State Department of Transportation lawsuit, which cited safety considerations and a ban on advertising along state roads.

The Shinnecocks say they can do whatever they like on their land. Previously, the Indians have sought to build a casino in the area that was also blocked by the state. And on a different road running through the group’s 980-acre reservation, small Indian-owned bodegas sell tax-free cigarettes and other goods.

The group’s annual Labor Day weekend pow-wow is another tourist magnet, drawing hundreds to its displays of crafts, food, and dancing. One has to hope that by Labor Day, the selfish invaders will no longer be carriers of COVID-19.

Dinner: leftover black beans and rice, leftover coleslaw, asparagus with fried eggs, baked potato.

Entertainment: Jeopardy, Babylon Berlin, and one episode of Bordertown.

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