A Call for Preservation of Land and Burial Sites

see update of 6-21-08 below:

In two meetings last week organized by the Inter-Tribal Historic Preservation Task Force speakers called for a movement to preserve Native American and colonial era grave sites and the remaining un-disturbed land on the east end. A new ordnance proposed for some time by the Shinnecock for Southampton to protect ancient grave sites, but so far not adopted by the Town was discussed. An end to development by declaration of the east end towns was proposed in order to protect the last small portion of un-developed land. Members of the five east end Town boards were invited to the meetings at Southampton High School on Tuesday evening and at the Hayground school in Bridgehampton on Thursday evening. No town officials attended these meetings. The meetings were recorded for SEA TV of Southampton and WPKN/WPKM radio of Bridgeport and Montauk.

Attorney George Stankevich speaking at the Hayground School last Thursday night said
"There is little concern among government officials in regard to protection of our ancestors. If we dis-respect our ancestors we really have no self-respect or vision.

I thought it was a no-brainer to have Southampton Town adopt a graves preservation law that would protect colonial and Native American graves. For the last 3 years the Shinnecock have repeatedly asked the Southampton Town Board to sit down in a work session to discuss such a proposal. It has been shunted aside and forgotten in a calous and negligent way of looking at our history.

New York is one of 4 states that has no protection for un-documented graves. So when a bulldozer hits an historic site or grave site, developers, builders, machine operators don't know what to do. Essentially the ad hoc process is: the police are called, the police call the coroner, the coroner determines that no crime was committed. The bones are then salvaged or taken away by the coroner or a local undertaker -- or by grave robbers who sell or trade in bones.
Really a shocking state of affairs.

The proposal was one of simplicity to lay out a clear path:
call the police, the building dept, identify the lineage of the bones and artifacts.
if native call the nearest tribe - the Shinnecock
if colonial graves call historical societies to get heir help to find what families the bones come from, contact family members. An orderly expeditious process to protect the site, document it so that future generations can respect it.

Yet at the local level there seems to be no concern for this, just an out of hand rejection of a meeting to discuss it.

At the state level the Shinnecock have had bills before the legislature for the last six years, either passed by one house or another and then forgotten.

Last year there was a tremendous amount of interest in the Legislature because in the Lake Placid region the gravesite of the Rogers Rangers was desecrated.
A bulldozer went through and disturbed hundreds of bodies. The Rangers were the original ranger battalions of the colonial army. Their lineage runs to today. Even that could not budge the Legislature to act.

I believe that we (in Southampton Town) have to get at the root of the callousness.

My suggestion is that we establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of citizens that can meet and discuss these problems in order to better shape our future. "

Ruben Valdez of Shinnecock and the ITHPTF spoke last Tuesday in Southampton urging an end to development on the east end.

He spoke about the tradition of hard work to earn a living and contrasted this with the real-estate industry of today. Valdez said:

"years ago one could make a living by hunting wild birds .. digging clams... you can't do that now.
"On Long Island we can see that there is an end to the land .. it does not go on forever.
This industry has become a land mill - something that grinds into itself the island we live on.

"In order for the industry to continue you need more and more land fed into the machine in order to have it work...."

"The industry that this town is encumbered by is a second home industry .. it is not about housing .. it's not about shelter .. it is about status and investment."

"I congratulate the Community Preservation Fund and the people who make it work. CPF is a step in the right direction but it has only the remnants (of the land) to work with."

(The towns should declare) "you cannot build on the east end anymore".

Historic Site Purchases:

In the past several weeks, purchase of one native burial site in Water Mill by Southampton Town was put on hold and a portion of another site in Shinnecock Hills was slated for purchase with funds from the Community Preservation Fund.

In 1990 an archeological discovery was made of a 1000 year old Shinnecock fort in the area of the Shinnecock Hills between the Montauk Highway and the Long Island Railroad about 1 mile west of the Shinnecock Reservation. The fort was used up to the 1640 arrival of English settlers to the area. Another known site, at Sugar Loaf Hill,known as a Shinnecock burial ground, is on the south side of Montauk Highway opposite the Fort. These areas were designated as Critical Environmental Areas by the Town of Southampton in 1990.

The property which is to be purchased is about 10 of a total of 17 acres in a proposed new sub-division. Property owners told Becky Genia of the Inter Tribal Historic Preservation Task Force that developers had offered them more than the Town for some years but they wanted the land preserved. The Town was said not to be cooperative until recently. Ms. Genia said she urged the board to purchase all the land offered.

UPDATE: 6-21-08

Southampton Town Councilperson Anna Throne-Holst responded:
I knew nothing about the two events and was never forwarded any information or an invitation to attend. Secondly, I could not agree with you more on the issue of working to preserve sacred and burial sites. Communication and working relationship with the Shinnecock Nation has improved as of late and speaking for myself, I would be more than happy to sit down with Tribal representatives on this issue specifically.