James Keith Phillips
This is an interview with my Godfather Keith Phillips. We talk about his life, the reservation and future projects. Please enjoy!
Keith: I’m James Keith Phillips. I’m a 63 year old Native American male. Lived here (Shinnecock) most of my life. Traveled a little bit around the world. Naval Intelligence, private security, social worker, an LCSW with an R and an MFA.
Jeremy: Okay, that’s how you know yourself, but how would your friends describe you?
K: You’d have to tell ask my friends – I couldn’t tell you what they think.
Here – take a picture right now. Oh, missed it!
Wanna buy a bow?
J: I already have a nice one.
K: You have a freaking mechanical bow.
J: Gets the job done!
K: No it doesn’t. Not as nice as this one. No class, no penache. No style, no substance, no history, no quick draw. Can you hit it at night?
See where we live? Look.
What do you possibly want more? A bigger car? It’s going to rust, it’s going to crash, it’s going to seize up. A bigger house?
We own everything we see. People want money. Money’s just…
You know I don’t give my own interviews right? I’m a writer, I write my own shit.
They can cut it up, they can put it out of context. When you write, a good editor can leave stuff in.
Look at how beautiful it is. That’s what we get to look at. Not a big lawn.
You know who’s a really good archer? Dave. He was. I think he hit hit a pheasant one time where the pink house is now. The pheasant flew up, it was from here to about…I don’t know, I was young. All I know is he hit the pheasant.
I don’t think he got it down. No – he got it down but it got away. Didn’t hit it hard enough. Well, now, we don’t have any pheasants.
What else? Ask me a question.
I’ve become more of a conservative, I’ve always been a renegade and stuff like that.
J: Why’s that?
K: Older. Wiser. Seeing what we have to lose. Understanding it more. I’ve been other places so I don’t take it for granted like a lot of other people do. Still got kids who ride through the crossroads on a wheelie.
So I don’t want anybody who doesn’t belong here, and they’re renting out just for money. I don’t work full time anymore. This is paid for. My bike is paid for. Still have my tent. Sit in it now and then.
J: Have you slept in it this summer yet?
K: No, I went in it and fell asleep and woke up again. I usually take it to, I always forget the name of that place. Near Calverton up the island. Or the one over here near Hampton Bays. Camping. Take my little bag.
I don’t know, Jeremy, what people want anymore.
J: What would someone with your wisdom –
K: I don’t have wisdom. I don’t like using that word. When you get to the other tribal members and they start pontificating, you can use the word wisdom with them.
J: How would you describe it? Your intelligence?
K: It’s just intelligence, it’s just worldliness. I had a girl tell me she wouldn’t marry me, wouldn’t go out with me because I’m too worldly.
ANYWAY – is that enough for you?
K: Where we live is beautiful, and it’s not forever. People say we can’t lose it. We already lost most of the island, didn’t we?
We lost Parrish Pond, didn’t we?
We almost lost the Pell Case, didn’t we?
Were going to lose something else. Because people want greed and they want the outside things and to do everything for money.
You went to college. Now they want a gas station. So everyone goes to college, gets their engineering degrees, their master degrees. What do we offer them? Selling cigarettes out of a window? How long do you think that’s going to lose? How does that elevate us? Just for money to buy us things?
Tomorrow, if I fell down dead, you’d have that, wouldn’t you?
J: Ha, no.
K: Might be in the will, never know!
J: I know this great cliff nearby.
K: I know you know a bank account too.
K: So at this age, I’m just cutting loose. I paid off my student loans, paid off this truck. People don’t realize I love this place more than anything. BUT, in order to appreciate it, I think you do need to go away. To see what else is out there in the world.
As far as the sovereignty issue. Sovereignty means a country unto itself that is governed by its laws. Until we have somebody that does that seriously, or takes interest in the community, its not going to happen.
Now, there’s a couple of projects I’m doing that are going to come into fruition. I’m telling you now, every time you do something, there will always be this negative vibe of people saying “you should do it this way,” but my answer to them is, “you would have done it.”
J: That’s an interesting topic. What are your plans coming up?
K: None of your business.
J: You think I’m going to sell?
K: You’ve got a camera and a microphone don’t you? There you go.
K: Everybody equivocates. Everybody says they should get kicked off the reservation. Except when it’s your relative.
Let me ask you; is your sister still living with her boyfriend? Is he a tribal member? Is he married? Is he registered? There you go.
And your father is a former trustee. And your mom is a valued and esteemed person in the tribe who gives talks. My sister has her baby daddy, grandson, what ever.
There’s a bunch of people. But they do it. We don’t stick to our rules and regulations. So we fail. And yes, to be a tribe, not this citizen shit. I’m a citizen of the United States, I’m a tribal member by blood. You and I are blood, are we not?
Read the Jungle Book? The Sewanee Pact? You and I are of one blood, that’s how the pact is described. We’re like that. The moment you start saying citizens, you start taking away the power of the tribe itself.
That’s what I believe, Jeremy!
K: Yeah, it’s not going to last forever. Shinnecock will be gone one day.
England’s living on a little island, they used to rule the world. Portuguese, the Spanish. The Mongols ran all the way to Russia. Now they’re living in little Mongolia.
Shinnecock roamed this whole place. They weren’t just this little spit of land. This is it. Sell it out, pimp it out, have a bunch of people come and throw trash all over our Powwow grounds, think it’s okay because we made fifty thousand dollars. Are you kidding me?
Look in the estate section. If you went to the state section on Gin Lane or Dune Road, and say we want to put a concert on on your big magnificent land, what do you think they would say to us? Probably what we should have said to them. BUT – quick and easy money. Not careers, not historical.
K: Want to know what project I’m working on? I’m working on the [Oyster] Hatchery, not to be a Haterchy, to be an aquatic center. To be beyond the Hatchery, beyond the Oysters.
J: To be on the water?
K: Where’s the Hatchery? Do you know where the Hatchery is?
J: Yea but –
K: Okay then STFU!
K: That’s the other thing, if I got somebody. There’s an actual scientist, a young scientist whos going for her Masters in Biology. She wants to do certain things and I want her to be the head of that.
Look at the Museum. How much did they spend on the museum to get it done up and everything? We have an African boat that’s falling apart in the front. Our village is down and crappy. We don’t know if our records are there, that’s why I didn’t give them my maps. If they get a flat file and air conditioning, properly done, I’ll give some of the maps I have.
Like the one in the Kitchen, 1854 which shows where we live. People don’t know. People put things on the internet and think it’s true. But unless you look into where you’re from and what you’re doing….I’m just babbling, you can edit it as you see fit.
K: Look at where we live! What shit more do you want?
J: Nice paradice.
K: Isn’t it? People don’t recognize it. They ride around mad at what the world isn’t giving them, but we have everything the world wants here.
People across the creek don’t know how to live like this, they don’t want to live like this. You see across from Dave’s house? What is that? Go to the Oyster Project and you’ll see a big brown fortress – it looks like a fort. It lords over the creek.
They get to look at us, Calvin Klein gets to see our beautiful land. And we have to look at his ugly ass boxy nasty house. That’s going to wash away in 10 years in the dunes. Or he’ll sell.
Once we start selling the land, we’re going to lose it. Once we pimp it, once we rent it. Just like with the farmers. We rented the land, what happened – do you know?
J: Shinnecock Hills was lost?
K: No – that’s before the farms.
Temik. Remember Temik? Course you don’t. Find out about Temik. They were putting chemicals, probably after they were supposed to be using it, but they can get away with using it here – so they can dispose of it.
By the daycare center, there used to be a bald-spot, where they dumped all the insecticides and everything, and the bald-spot was there for years. It’s still there, as a matter-of-fact, just at the beginning of the driveway.
We didn’t respect it, that’s what our problem is. Ever since the Europeans, we tried to appease them. The more we give the more they take. Across the creek now, there’s mansions. We have to look at their ugly shit all the time. We lived simple, nice, with the land. Some of us. Some of us have bulldozers and have parties.
K: I went to the ocean yesterday, it was really calm.
J: Must have been cold, right?
K: It’s the ocean, it’s supposed to be cool. That’s why I go! You don’t want it slimy like the bay. Bay gets slimy right about now.
Alright, there’s your picture. Are you happy?
J: Do you always have to wear glasses like my dad?
J: And is there anything you want to talk about that is more based on a public audience?
J: I think what you spoke about was more tribal and Shinnecock politics.
K: Shinnecock Politics make the Democrats and Republicans look like Girl Scouts and Brownies brother.
J: Ha, okay, that will do!
K: There’s a quote for you.