Southampton Town Considers Graves Protection Legislation


A follow up work session on graves protection legislation was held last Thursday June 25 at
Southampton Town Hall with both Southampton Town attorneys present. Progress was made according to Becky Genia of the Inter-Tribal Historic Protection Task Force.
The Southampton Town Board held a work session last Friday June 19 on legislation designed to protect native american and colonial era grave sites.

The legislation was proposed five years ago by the Inter-tribal Historic Preservation Task Force.
The Task Force was formed after a mass grave site was destroyed during construction in nearby Shelter Island Town. It includes members of the Naragannsett, Unkechaug and
Shinnecock Indian Nations.
There is no New York State or Federal law that protects grave sites on privately held land.

The proposed ordanance would provide a procedure to follow when human remains are un-earthed during construction.
It would establish a Town committee to oversee the procedure. A builder would be required to notify the Town so that the committee could be notified prior to start of construction.

It would require notification to Police and the County Medical Examiner
when a discovery is made.
If the remains are more than 50 years old an archeological survey and carbon-dating would be mandated.
The committee would meet with representatives of the descendants along with the property owner to determine the disposition of the remains and associated funerary objects.

During the Town Board session, members of the Task Force emphasized that ancient grave sites are all over the town and in the past had not been built on since local people were aware they exist.
The committee would maintain a registry of burial sites discovered and believed to contain native american and colonial era graves.
Issues of private property may be involved according to Town Supervisor Linda Kabot. Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Nation observedthat private property rights did not prevent the preservation of wildlife.

The proposed legislation was referred to the Town Attorney and the discussion will continue in about a month according to Supervisor Kabot.


May 11: In response to this letter (following) Southampton Town Board member Chris Nuzzi sent a request last week to put the matter on the schedule for a Board Work Session. He attached a similar request he had sent last fall to the Town Board. Thankyou Mr Nuzzi.

April 29, 2009

Dear Southampton Town Board Members:

I am writing to urge you to finally act on a proposal for a "Native American and Colonial Graves Protection and Repatriation Local Law" first submitted in July of 2005 by the Inter-Tribal Historic Preservation Task Force (IHPTF).

Attached are a memo* prepared in 2005 by Attorney George Stankevich describing the proposed local law and a letter* to the Town Board dated May 24, 2008 by Rebecca Genia of the IHPTF.

The indigenous people of this place hold the land and the remains of their ancestors sacred. Mr. Stankevich quotes a statement on human remains by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). It reads in part:

"... We have been taught that we bury our dead into the ground so that their bodies can become part of the sacred Earth ...We believe that we come from Mother Earth..... We believe that the remains, the associated burial objects and the actual soil in which they rest is sacred.... "

As we would not disturb the graves of our ancestors we should not allow the desecration of the graves of any people's ancestors.

Please consider prompt action before we lose any more of our heritage.

Anthony Ernst


* documents available on request to:

The Inter-Tribal Historic Preservation Task Force sent the proposed ordanance to all 5 East End Town Boards in 2005. The Shelter Island Board adopted an ordinance described by Ms. Genia as "watered down". No other Towns have adopted a graves protection law. Forty six states have grave protection laws but New York and 3 other states do not have such a law.