September 8, 2020
Contact: Connie Conway
By unanimous vote, the Southampton Town Board has approved the Graves Protection Act and the Shinnecock Hills Building Moratorium to protect areas believed to be ancient burial grounds. Members of the Shinnecock Nation have long rallied to stop building in the Fort Hill and Sugar Loaf areas and other locations where they believe their ancestors are buried.
The purpose of this moratorium is to review the current laws and land use tools available to the Town to address the issue of unmarked graves and burial sites, with the goal of adopting local legislation to ensure that human remains and associated funerary artifacts remain undisturbed to the maximum extent practical, and are treated with the utmost respect consistent with the wishes of lineal descendants and culturally-affiliated groups.
The Graves Protection Act establishes protocols if human remains are encountered during construction activities while the six month moratorium halts new home construction or excavation within areas that include the Fort Hill and the Sugar Loaf areas of Shinnecock Hills and beyond to Peconic Road without first completing an archaeological review. New York State is one of only four states that lack the Graves Protection Act.
A. The moratorium area shall be defined as those parcels located north of Montauk Highway, which includes the Shinnecock Indian Contact Period Village Fort region (“Moratorium Area A”), and those parcels located south of Montauk Highway, which includes the Sugar Loaf Hill Shinnecock Indian Burial Ground region (“Moratorium Area B”), within the hamlet of Shinnecock Hills.
B. Moratorium Area A shall encompass those parcels bounded on the north by the Long Island Rail Road, on the east by Ridge Road, on the south by Montuak Highway, and on the west by Peconic Road, within the hamlet of Shinnecock Hills.
C. Moratorium Area B shall encompass those parcels bounded on the north by Montauk Highway, on the east by Southway Drive, on the south by Shinnecock Bay East, and on the west by Peconic Road, within the hamlet of Shinnecock Hills.
The moratorium also affects other large scale excavation projects in the areas such as accessory structures and swimming pools. The moratorium will allow time for the Town to enact safeguards to prevent the inadvertent desecration of graves and archeological resources in this sensitive area.
“The sanctity of human burial sites must be protected,” said Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “We need to be sure we are not disturbing our cultural heritage and destroying ancestral burial grounds.”
“Since 1640 the relationship between the Town of Southampton and the Shinnecock Nation has been marred with past injustices, land theft, and broken promises, but today marks a new brighter chapter in the three-hundred-and-eighty-year relationship between the Town of Southampton and the Shinnecock Nation,” said Shinnecock Nation Chairman Bryan Polite. “I would like to recognize the hard work and dedication of the Shinnecock Nation Graves protection warrior society, especially Rebecca Genia who has been unwavering in her fight to protect the grave sites of our ancestors. I would also like to thank the Southampton community who supported, marched with, and stood side by side with the Shinnecock Nation; your efforts are greatly appreciated.”
“I would also like to recognize and thank the current Southampton Town Board who worked with the Nation to draft this landmark legislation and who provided a forum so all sides in the debate could be heard,” Polite continued. “There have been several Town Boards who promised the Nation action and did not follow through, but this Board voted unanimously today to fulfill their commitment to engage with the Shinnecock Nation and tackle an issue that has caused so much hurt and dismay to the Shinnecock Nation. I want to specifically recognize Supervisor Schneiderman’s tireless work to ensure this law made it across the finish line. The Supervisor and the Town Board efforts and hard work are greatly appreciated.”