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Southampton board votes 5-0 to spend $5.3M to preserve sacred Shinnecock burial ground

Roger Waters, co-founder of the rock band Pink

Roger Waters, co-founder of the rock band Pink Floyd and a supporter of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, speaks at a May 25 Southampton Town Board meeting in favor of a request from the tribe for the town to use $5.3 million in Community Preservation Fund money to preserve 4.5 acres in the tribe's ancient burial area on Montauk Highway. Credit: Newsday/Vera Chinese

Southampton Town has agreed to spend $5.3 million to preserve a parcel atop Sugar Loaf Hill, considered the most sacred land to the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

Tribal members and their supporters, who include rock legend and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, lauded the decision after the town board voted 5-0 during its June 8 meeting to approve the purchase.

"I think it’s a significant step forward in terms of recognizing some of the harm that’s been done but also in terms of taking a small step toward cleansing a historic wound that is quite deep," Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said during meeting.

The land, owned by members of the Nappa family, is at 536 Montauk Hwy., the summit of Sugar Loaf Hill where the tribe has buried its ancestors for 3,000 years.

Under the deal, the nonprofit Peconic Land Trust is expected this week to purchase the title for $5.6 million and demolish a 7,000-square-foot home on the property. The town would then buy the development rights from the land trust using $5.3 million from the Community Preservation Fund, which is funded through a 2% tax on real estate transfers.

The tribe is raising money to assist the land trust with closing and other costs.

"It is about building a new bridge to one another based on hope and mutual respect," Peconic Land Trust president John v.H. Halsey said during the meeting.

The Community Preservation Fund saw record revenue in 2020 during a pandemic-driven real estate boom, raising $80.71 million in Southampton for preservation efforts. The tribe has put increased pressure on the town to preserve parcels in their burial area where graves have been desecrated and ancestral remains sometimes removed.

The land was used by the Shinnecock people for thousands of years until an 1859 land deal — which the tribe says was fraudulent — broke a 1,000-year lease and confined them to their current reservation, a few miles east of the burial site.

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