Near New York, the last Native Americans under threat from global warming

The Shinnecock tribe has lived on the New York island of Long Island for 13,000 years.

Near New York, the last Native Americans under threat from global warming

The Shinnecock tribe has lived on the New York island of Long Island for 13,000 years.

Pushed back and expelled from their lands from the 17th century with the arrival of Europeans, then in the 19th century by the American authorities, there are no more than 1,600 of them, only half of whom are settled on an autonomous reserve of 320 hectares at the east of the peninsula, in Southampton.

Today, their modest villages and dwellings built on the edge of the Atlantic are directly threatened by the rise in the level of the ocean, erosion and the multiple storms that sweep the region from the end of the summer.

- "Terrible reality" -

"A whole people who have always lived here are facing a terrible reality: the obligation to move", summarizes for AFP Tela Troge, a lawyer from the Shinnecock tribe.

The Shinnecocks are, like many Native American and Native American tribes, officially recognized by the US federal government.

Their Southampton reserve is a stone's throw from mansions and buildings with disproportionate surfaces, valued at tens of millions of dollars, for American and foreign multimillionaires: it is the wealthy jewel of the Hamptons with a worldwide reputation.

There, we stroll in front of electrified gates and gates, through the hamlet of Shinnecock Hills, which is home to an ultra popular golf course built on land that the tribe considers stolen since 1859.

And what little territory remains in Shinnecock hands is now threatened by warming, rising waters and coastal erosion.

At 78, Ed Terry still makes traditional jewelry with shells picked up on the sand: he remembers very well that as a child the beach was much wider and the ocean more distant.

"We see the erosion. What was land is now water. It's as if the sea were coming at us," breathes the old man, sculpting a shell to make an earring.

According to environmental studies quoted by a Shinnecock Nation government official, Shavonne Smith, the coast in Southampton has receded 45 meters in a few decades.

According to her, 57 houses must be moved and even some graves in the ancestral cemetery of the tribe are threatened.

In an interview with AFP, Ms. Smith is also alarmed by the "gigantic and stressful" impact on a population "so dependent on water" of a forced move inland.

The Shinnecocks predict that sea levels will rise 1.3 meters by the end of this century, with ever more frequent and destructive storms and floods.

Like Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 (44 dead and $19 billion in costs according to New York City) and Ida last September (at least 91 dead in the northeastern United States ).

New York climate change experts are also very pessimistic.

- The Sunken Shinnecocks -

"Studies show that by 2040, there is a 100% chance that the entire Shinnecock Nation will be swallowed up by a storm," Professor Scott Mandia of Suffolk County Community College, Long Island, told AFP. .

And those "who are the least responsible" for climate change are "those who suffer the most", protests the specialist.

However, the Shinnecocks, who traditionally live from fishing and farming, are determined not to disappear.

In an attempt to battle the elements, an oyster shell reef has been built on the beach, large rocks and fences have been put up there, and grass has been planted to keep the sand out.

"We are a strong people, we will survive", wants to believe Ed Terry, the jewelry manufacturer.

Admirable efforts, Prof Mandia acknowledges, but the Shinnecocks are "only buying time" before their land is completely uninhabitable.

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