Ross School - Senior Projects 2010

Student: Cholena Smith

Mentor: Kimble Humiston


Title: Voices of Shinnecock


I created a book to educate my people and the people we live among. Many of our stories and traditions are being lost because the younger generations are not committed to learning the history of their nation. Our history has been told through story telling. I have told our story through writing, by a Shinnecock and for the Shinnecock. I have also created the covering of the book with natural materials to represent the traditions and values of Eastern Long Island Natives.


For the research component, besides reading books and articles, I conducted interviews and recorded the two most important ones, the Circassian story and the federal recognition process. To create the book, I printed the story double sided on a thick pale yellow paper in Garamond font. Then I punched holes in the paper and weaved the book together with a strip of leather. Then I glued leather onto two hard same sized, thin wooden pieces. I drilled holes through the pieces after they were covered. Then my mother helped me by weaving another strip of leather through the top cover with the papers that were already weaved together. Before the book was woven together, I leather burned the title and my name on the front of the book using a pen from a wood-burning kit.

Voices of Shinnecock

PowerPoint Presentation


This senior project is a very important project for my community and myself. The idea came from a passion that I have had since birth. This was a cultural history project based on the history of the Shinnecock people. My people have so much history that many people including the Shinnecock donÕt know about.

At first I wanted to educate my community in the Shinnecock language. I would focus on the children and teach simple words after I decided that the language was not known well enough to write a complete story or narrative of some sort. I did an internship at the East End Alternatives Counseling Project in which I did cultural work. I studied the Shinnecock language and gathered sources to help make games and activities for teaching the language. After this, I joined the Shinnecock Language Revitalization Program. After much research and conversations, we realized how difficult and how much time it will take in order to revitalize the Shinnecock language. We know very few words and we are still not positive on the base language and the most accurate sources we will use. My writing project would not be completed in the Shinnecock language.

 After random conversations with Shinnecock members the issue about the knowledge of Shinnecock stories was often brought up. There are concerns that the community does not know the most important stories and history of our people, which make us a unique nation. I decided that I wanted to discover these stories and teach them to the community focusing on the young adults and children. One reason that the stories are known is because there is a lack of communication between the older and younger generations.

To begin the book I set up interviews and had random conversations with several people and elders in the community that have knowledge of our history. Throughout the conversations, the story that seemed to have been always taught was the story of the Circassian. It has been passed on to the generations and we know its importance. The outside community also knows the story but does not understand its importance to our people. I wanted to tell this Circassian story from the perspective of the Shinnecock and include the emotions that were felt at the time of the shipÕs destruction. This incident occurred in the 1800Õs and I wondered what was happening with the Shinnecock people before this time period. I wanted to learn about the ancient Shinnecock culture. My book began to have a chronological structure. I have an ancient story, an important 19th century story, and I needed a contemporary story. Currently, the nation is going through the process of becoming a federally recognized tribe. We have been fighting for this recognition for too many years. The process is complex, long, emotional, and important. I believe the Shinnecock and the people surrounding the Shinnecock do not know the history, importance, or struggles that the community has gone through in order to receive the recognition. Of course this was going to be the final story in the book. The purpose of the book was to make people aware of the stories of my people and encourage the youth to want to learn more about the cultural history. Throughout the process of gathering information for my novel I learned so much about the Shinnecock. There are so many stories that are important, interesting, and humorous that every Shinnecock should learn. These stories cannot be told in a novel because first of all, there are too many, and second of all, there is a different affect when you read the stories, and when you listen to them. I ended up emphasizing the importance of continuing oral tradition in the Shinnecock community.

At first I was going to send this book to a publisher and have it mass-produced for sale at some point. Then I decided to get creative and make my book. I wanted it to be made from natural materials to go along with the theme of cultural values. Because the novel also includes a contemporary story, I added color photography to the novel. Either I, or people living on the Shinnecock reservation took all of the photos in the book. The book was written by Shinnecock, crafted by Shinnecock, and even edited by Shinnecock. I hope that all generations of the Shinnecock community take advantage of this book. I hope they use it, learn from it, add to it, and admire my creation.

Works Consulted

Brower, Carolyn Erland. The Circassian Story: "We'll Float Tonight or We'll Go to Hell!". November 2009 <>.

Cuffee, Eugene. The Circassian Cholena Smith. 2 December 2009.

Darling, Nedra. "Department of the Interior Proposes to Acknowledge the Shinnecock Indian Nation of New York as an Indian Tribe." 15 December 2009. U.S. Department of the Interior. 4 January 2010 <>.

"Federal Recognition." ABBE Museum. 9 November 2009 <>.

Hakim, Danny. Shinnecock Indians Contemplate a Casino as They Close In on Federal Recognition. 26 May 2009. 9 November 2009 <>.

Jensen, Bevy Deer. Shinnecock Indian Nation An Ancient History and Culture. September 2009 <>.

McLean, Christian. "Tribal recognition: 29 years and counting ." 25 February 2005. Shinnecock Indian Nation. 9 November 2009 <>.

Smith, Marguerite. Shinnecock Federal Recognition Cholena Smith. 31 December 2009.

Smith, Marguerite. The Circassian Cholena Smith. 5 October 2009.

Strong, John. The Evolution of Shinnecock Culture. October 2009 <>.

Suffolk County Archaeological Association. The Shinnecock Indians: A Culture History. Ed. Gaynell Stone. Vol. VI. Stony Brook: Ginn Custom Publishing, 1983.

Community Member (Details)

My community member was Ginew Benton. He is someone with a lot of knowledge of the Shinnecock language and some history. Over the summer I consulted him for language sources and we had a conversation about Shinnecock culture. He also works at the East End Alternatives Counseling Project, which is where I interned during the summer. With the internship we worked together on developing the language and he helped teach the interns some Shinnecock Cultural History. I ended up not using so much of the language in the project so he was not a big help on the final production. I did meet with him at one point to get ideas for quotes to add in the Shinnecock language to the book. I also emailed him about the same idea and he did not get back to me with anything before the final book was created.