Harry K. Williams died on Saturday, September 27, at his home on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation. He was 90 and a respected elder and tribal leader known as Chief War Hawk or Chief.
He was born on the Shinnecock Reservation on June 8, 1924, and grew up in a large family that included his mother, Lillian Lee Williams; sisters Alice, Camille, and Vivian; and brothers, Arthur T. and Donald; and many aunts, uncles and cousins. He attended the one-room Shinnecock School and later Southampton High School. As a young man, he joined the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church and eventually served on the Board of Elders.
He joined the U.S. Army in 1943, serving in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. When the war ended in 1945, he was honorably discharged and returned to the reservation, where he entered tribal government.
First elected Tribal Trustee in 1946, Mr. Williams served as an elected Tribal Trustee for 27 years. As Trustee, he was responsible for enforcing the tribal law, managing farming leases, land allotments, as well as negotiating with New York State and the federal government. He was quoted as saying that “Shinnecock land is the most important thing to us” and in 1950, the Tribe went to court to stop Cove Realty from building several homes on reservation land. The Nation won the case and although Cove Realty would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case was eventually dismissed.
The 1970s were a busy time for the Tribal Trustees. The Shinnecock Community Center and the Shinnecock Oyster Hatchery were built. The Mocomanto Scholarship was established to provide funding for Shinnecock youth pursing college degrees. The Trustees also obtained state funding to create the Shinnecock Celestial Learning Center at Southampton High School. The Shinnecock Nation also began the federal recognition process during this time and now the Tribe is federally recognized.
Mr. Williams served as a founding member of the Shinnecock Tribal Council and most recently served as the ceremonial Chief of the annual Shinnecock Powwow.
He worked for B.R. Miller Moving and Storage Company of Southampton. While at Miller Moving, he was instrumental in providing jobs for several young Shinnecock men. He would eventually retire from Bayberry Land, which was owned by Local #3 of the Electrical Union, after many years of service.
In 1998, the Institute of American Indian Studies of Washington, Connecticut, named him an “Honored Elder” in recognition of his leadership. In 2002, he was selected grand marshal of Southampton Village’s July 4th parade. He enjoyed watching baseball, golf and horse racing. He was a past member of the Golfers Association of Shinnecock. He and his late wife, Rebecca, loved traveling and Native American history.
He participated in traditional events including the annual Shinnecock Powwow, June meeting and Thanksgiving celebrations. He represented the Shinnecock Tribe in numerous parades and pageants and he loved to share stories about living on the reservation. He was included in the Rogers Memorial Library Oral History Project, and shared his knowledge of the 1938 Hurricane and life during the Great Depression. He was featured in the book “Our Southampton: Family Stories and Food Traditions,” where he discussed traditional Shinnecock foods like samp, succotash, clam pie and preserves made from berries and beach plums.
Mr. Williams was predeceased by his first wife, Mary Davis; and his second wife, Rebecca Graham Williams; and two sisters, Alice Franklin and Vivian Carle. He is survived by a sister, Camille Bullock; two brothers, Arthur T. Williams Sr. and Donald Williams Sr. and wife Joan; a sister-in-law, Rosemary Rogers; and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews and other relatives. He had many friends.
He is fondly remembered by Rebecca’s children, Lisa, Michael and Ralph Bowen. He was “Poppy” to Anitchewan Bowen, Rebekah Wise, Seneca Bowen and wife Elisa Bowen and their son Xavier.
Memorial donations may be made to the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church. P.O. Box 5011, Southampton, NY 11969.
A wake was held at the Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton on Tuesday, September 30, from 5 to 8 p.m. A funeral was held at the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, October 1, at noon, with interment at the Shinnecock Cemetery.