It was an historic moment at Southampton Town Hall Tuesday night, February 25, when a public hearing was held to acquire land in the Shinnecock Hills with Community Preservation Fund money — land that was going to be developed — and save it in perpetuity as the sacred Shinnecock Nation burial site that it is and always has been.
New York is one of only four states that does not have a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman acknowleged “dismayed” him, especially when bones were found at a building site at 10 Hawthorne Road. The town did end up purchasing that parcel to repatriate it to the tribe, but “there was no law,” Schneiderman said.
On Tuesday night, it was unanimous – the CPF money, $2.2 million, will be used to purchase three buildable lots at 517 Montauk Highway and the adjacent site at Sugar Loaf and Ridge roads, a total of approximately 3.3 acres. Part of the Shinnecock Hills Greenway, the area is considered to be one of the last vestiges of the natural Shinnecock landscape, with old growth flora and abounding in wildlife.
The land is currently held by JLS Land Development LLC and EMC & MTG Corp.
The Shinnecock Hills, said tribal leader Lance Gumbs, are “as sacred to us as the Black Hills are to the Sioux,” in particular the areas known as Sugar Loaf and Fort Hill. In response to the recent protests, the ongoing efforts of the Warrior Protection Society, and Treva Wurmfeld’s recent documentary “Conscience Point,” attention has been redirected at discouraging development there.
There were speakers, all in favor of protecting the Shinnecock Hills, including Gumbs, Shane Weeks, and Rebecca Hill-Genia from the Shinnecock Nation, and allies as well. Michael Daly, a local realtor, pledged to not conduct any business in the Hills, “but my colleagues need to hear about this, know about this,” he stated.
Schneiderman and the town board will hold a public hearing next month “to set up protocols” if remains are inadvertently dug up, for homeowners and builders “to halt construction or suffer severe penalties,” said Schneiderman, who put forth the idea of a six-month moratorium on building in the Sugar Loaf/Fort Hill area, giving the town time to convene and “develop a new set of rules,” he said.
Also, he continued, the board will discuss a town law to protect future burial sites from being unearthed. “Just because the state doesn’t have a law doesn’t mean Southampton can’t,” said Schneiderman.
The public hearing will be held on March 24 at 6 PM at Southampton Town Hall.