Members of tribal nations from across the Northeast and progressive groups stood in solidarity with the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Tuesday to urge Southampton Town to pass legislation protecting the tribe’s sacred burial area in Shinnecock Hills.
Shinnecock members have gathered since December outside a worksite on Montauk Highway in Shinnecock Hills where the town issued a building permit for a two-story home.
On Tuesday, the Shinnecocks were joined by members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut, the Monacan Indian Nation of Virginia and others who wore purple armbands, burned sage and waved signs reading “stop desecrating Indigenous spaces.”
"The Shinnecock people told us about the desecration of the gravesites; they asked us to come as allies,” said Owl, a member of the Ramapough Mountain Indians of New Jersey and Southern New York who said he drove for more than two hours to arrive at the protest. He likened the issue to a proposal to build an oil pipeline through Ramapough land that his tribe is fighting.
The Shinnecock property is in a state-designated Critical Environmental Area adjacent to the tribe’s Sugar Loaf Hill burial ground. Southampton Town authorized a subdivision of the property last year and in November issued a building permit for a two-story home.
The subdivision violated town code because the tribal trustees were not formally notified during the approval process, tribal members said.
A construction crew unearthed remains of a likely Shinnecock ancestor at a nearby site in 2018, sparking anger and protests from the tribe. The town later agreed to purchase and preserve the Hawthorne Road property, and the remains were reburied several months later.
The town board and the tribe met on Monday to discuss a law protecting undeveloped parcels in the area and other related matters. Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who vowed in his inaugural address earlier this month to pass a grave protection act, said Tuesdaythat the ongoing talks have been “productive.”
Tela Troge, a tribal member and attorney, said the tribe is advocating for a number of things, including having one of its own on the town’s land acquisition committee and adopting a law requiring notification when a burial site is discovered, with jail-time penalties for violators.
“We don’t feel like a financial penalty is enough, Troge said. “Money doesn’t mean anything to these developers.”