The Shinnecock Indian Nation of South Hampton, New York, is more than willing to partner with New Delhi-based Amity Education Group’s new US university campus based in Oakdale, Long Island, says Lance Gumbs, Shinnecock nation tribal ambassador and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) vice-president, Northeast Region.
In September 2016, Amity Education purchased the 69-hectare former campus of St John’s University in Oakdale for US$22.5 million but has since then struggled to win New York state accreditation to operate its first university campus in the United States and North America.
In an interview on the sidelines of the NCAI winter congress in Washington, DC, Gumbs said the federally recognized native American tribe would be very interested in speaking with Atul Chauhan, Amity University president and AKC Group of Companies CEO, and co-chancellor Aseem Chauhan over joining forces regarding the campus.
Amity University is part of the Amity Education Group that operates private universities and other educational institutes in India as well as eight international locations. They are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, London, China, Mauritius, Romania, Singapore and South Africa.
It has been a long-term goal by the Shinnecock Indian Nation to establish a higher-education learning center for its tribal members and the larger native American community for some time.
Not only would the Shinnecock nation be interested in partnering with Amity, but it would also be willing to hold talks about placing the Oakdale campus under Shinnecock trust lands if it would help Amity University overcome obstacles placed by the Albany, New York-based Board of Regents.
Amity is represented by Los Angeles-based law firm Loeb & Loeb, while the Shinnecock nation’s longtime adviser has been New York City’s Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.
New York State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said Amity University had not yet received accreditation from the Board of Regents, but he failed to provide further details.
As a federally recognized native American tribe, the Shinnecock Indian Nation has the right to acquire property up to 75 miles (120 kilometers) from its reservation in South Hampton, Long Island, and transfer those lands under trust to the Shinnecock sovereign nation.
Representative Lee Zeldin, whose New York congressional district includes the Shinnecock reservation, was made aware of Amity University’s takeover of St John’s Oakdale campus and potential Shinnecock interest in partnering with Amity during an interview at a Republican retreat in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
At the time of the interview, Zeldin considered the issue of Amity’s lack of accreditation for Oakdale to fall under the jurisdiction of local New York State Senator Thomas Croci and State Senator Phil Boyle, both Republicans.
However, any potential Shinnecock takeover of Oakdale would make it an issue for a number of New York members of Congress from both parties, including Zeldin, Representative Peter King, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, as aboriginal affairs are mainly a federal matter.
During the interview, Gumbs said there was little love lost between the Shinnecock and other Indian nations in New York state and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democratic presidential hopeful.
Cuomo stopped New York state tribes from selling premium-brand cigarettes on tribal territory, an important source of revenue for native Americans in the state.
At the same time, Cuomo is said to be close to New York City’s Och Ziff hedge fund, which is widely blamed for scuttling the Shinnecock nation’s efforts to build a casino near New York City through interference in internal tribal governance.
Gumbs said he was particularly pleased about Amity’s desire to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and understanding its importance for black Americans and returning US military veterans.
“This Indian Indian and American Indian alliance has a lot promise,” Gumbs said.