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Shinnecocks protest clearing of land near reservation

More than a dozen members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation staged a protest Tuesday over the recent clearing of a parcel between the tribe's Southampton reservation and Hampton Bayson what is considered sacred ancestral land.

About 15 tribal members, including newly elected trustee chairman Daniel Collins, were on the scene of a tract known as Sugar Loaf -- which is being developed for residences -- with protest signs along Montauk Highway just east of Hampton Bays, near the waterfront, said spokeswoman Beverly Jensen.

"This land is a part of our ancestral territory, and remains hallowed and sacred to the Shinnecock Indian Nation," the tribe said in a statement. Jensen said the land was "stolen" from the tribe in 1859.

The tribe considers the land part of Shinnecock Hills, where tribal artifacts and funeral materials have been uncovered. "I don't think this tribe has ever gotten over losing the land in 1859," Jensen said. "It is heartbreaking."

The tribe has filed land claims for large tracts of Shinnecock Hills from its reservation to the Peconic Bay that remain active and on appeal. Land claims have traditionally been settled through agreements with governments, including for pacts to open casinos. The Shinnecocks have expressed an interest in up to three casinos in the region, but the effort remains stalled over tribal infighting.

Meanwhile Tuesday, a divided Southampton Town Board failed to pass a resolution that would have supported state legislation to increase protection of unmarked burial sites. Members of the Shinnecock tribe at the board meeting had urged its passage.

Councilwoman Bridget Fleming pushed forward with the symbolic vote after other board members asked for a delay and complained that the wording of the state legislation would change.

Fleming called it a "human issue" to protect remains. She was supported by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. Councilwoman Christine Scalera voted against it. Councilmen Jim Malone and Chris Nuzzi abstained.

-- With David Schwartz

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