Jeremy Dennis was born and raised in the Shinnecock Indian Reservation located in Southampton. The Shinnecock Nation is a community of people who have been around for nearly 10,000 years, yet there are people out there who are unaware of their existence.
“Most people think of Native Americans in the past tense,” said Dennis. “For so long we had other people tell our stories for us.”
Now, through his art, he is able to share those many stories for himself. He uses his photography to garner public awareness of Native people in America, explore indigenous identity, culture and assimilation.
On the north side of Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays, stand two 61-foot billboards. These billboards are monuments that were built in dedication to the Shinnecock Nation. Despite the fact that they reside on land that is owned by the Shinnecock people, a lawsuit was filed by the New York State in efforts to remove the monuments in 2019.
Due to the resistance and resilience of the Shinnecock community, in May 2020, the Suffolk County Supreme Court issued an order denying the state’s request.
Dennis believes the economic disproportion between Hamptons and Shinnecock to be unethical.
“Despite being located in the Hamptons, it is quite a low-income community,” said Dennis.
These signs help to generate revenue for the Shinnecock Nation and provide enough wealth to take care of the roads, cultural programming, preschools etc.
“The Shinnecock monument is very exciting,” said Dennis. “Most people take that route into the Hamptons and the Shinnecock monument is the first thing they see!”
At the beginning of his photography career, Dennis’ work featured photos of pow wows or portraits of the people around him. In a series similar to Humans of New York, he would interview people of Native American descent and create around 100 images, which he published into a book.
“I’m able to tell the stories of people that were never asked to tell their stories before,” said Dennis.
His most recent collection of photos, the “Rise” project, makes a statement of the fear of indigenous people and brings awareness of their existence in the United States.
“Fear, in this instance, comes from the acknowledgement of our continued presence, not as an extinct people, but as sovereign nations who have witnessed and survived four hundred years of colonization,” said Dennis
Dennis was a recipient of the Dreamstarter Grant back in 2016. He was awarded $10,000 from the non-profit organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth to complete his project “On This Site”. Dennis’ art has also given him the opportunity to travel throughout the United States. He’s also excited for the opportunity to work around young artists that are of Native descent like him.
“Santa Fe, New Mexico is the number one place to be a native artist,” said Dennis. “The median age in Southampton is like 55, but in Santa Fe, everyone is in their twenties or thirties!”
He was scheduled to stay there for two months and pursue his artistic ventures.
“On This Site” is an interactive map of more than 100 sites that you can access online and see the indigenous people that used to live there, still live there or the historical impact.
“We buried our ancestors at [what is now] your local golf club,” said Dennis. “[My goal is to] preserve and create awareness of sacred, culturally significant and historical Native American landscapes on Long Island, New York.”
Dennis is now working to restore an old family home on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation. This next project is called Ma’s house.
“I hope this will be my future home, studio, community art space and artist residency,” said Dennis
The house should be complete by the summer of 2021. There is a GoFundMe on his website to support the fundraising process. He plans to have Zoom tours of the progress of the house.
Dennis knows that visual art is his calling.
“My philosophy was in practicality,” said Dennis. “There’s this idea that visual art is just for fun or non-essential… but there’s practicality in knowing the truth… and politically, bringing public awareness can help to regain territories. My role is concrete and fulfilling. I guess that’s enough to tell me what I’m doing is important enough to keep going.”