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Shinnecocks urge Southampton officials to spend $5.3M to preserve tribal burial site

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

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and their supporters — including Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters — are urging the Southampton Town Board to spend $5.3 million and preserve a property in the tribe’s ancient burial area.

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.

"It really is and has been documented as the most significant Indian burial site in the state of New York," Kelly Dennis, a member of the Shinnecock Nation Tribal Council of Trustees, told the board Tuesday during the town’s first in-person meeting in nearly a year.

Under the deal, the nonprofit Peconic Land Trust would purchase the title and demolish a 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.

An online real estate listing for the 4.5-acre property says the 7,000-square-foot home has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, an inground pool and describes it as "something out of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden,’ " a book first published in 1911.

Peconic Land Trust president John v.H. Halsey said there is a possibility of reinterring remains of Shinnecock ancestors that have been returned to the tribe by cultural institutions.

Attention to preserving land in the area — which is sacred to the Shinnecocks but is regarded as prime Hamptons real estate by others — has grown with increased protests and the release of the 2019 documentary "Conscience Point."

Roger Waters, who has financially supported the tribe in its legal battle over two electronic billboards on Sunrise Highway, was among those who spoke in favor of the deal and called it a "potential for joy."

"I will remember this day for the rest of my life because I think it’s incredibly important to this community and to all of us who are here and who are lucky enough to be part of this," Waters told the board.

Shinnecock tribe member and attorney Tela Troge spoke and urged the board to prioritize CPF money to acquire as much land in the area as possible.

"This restorative work is going to be healing to our entire community," Troge said. "We all need to do this work together."

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the board would make a decision during its June 8 board meeting to allow for written comment, as some people are still reluctant to attend public meetings during the pandemic, but he expressed support for the proposition.

"It is an extraordinary place," Schneiderman said. "It’s hard not to be moved when you’re there. To not feel a sense of something very spiritual, mystical."

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