Honoring One’s Ancestry Rights - Human to Human

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The Emperial Samaritan team was recently in Sag Harbor, and we learned about the ongoing situation of the indigenous people of Shinnecock versus the town council

In 2018, Becky Hill-Genia received a call from a friend that worked closely with a local builder. According to the phone call, the local builder had unearthed indigenous remains.

“I got a call from a friend that a skull came rolling down the Shinnecock hills," she said.

With this knowledge coming to light, further review of old cases revealed that were years of misconduct in the procedure and operations of removing the remains of local indigenous people. There were also complaints that the builders didn’t want to report the finds in fear that it would delay the building process or even cancel the project indefinitely.

According to Hill-Genia, there were reports that the builders would put the ancestry bones in black garbage bags in the trunk of their car or throw them in a dumpster. 

"Imagine someone digging up your great-grandfather or grandmother and having someone dispose of them in such a fashion," she said. "How would you feel? Would you feel disrespected?"

According to Hill-Genia, the whole situation started in 1859 when the land was taken from indigenous peoples to build a train. They were then sent to the Shinnecock Indian Reserve gates that were installed around the land. 

In the 1900’s, expensive golf courses were built on unmarked ancestral burial grounds. The desecration of these graveyards to honor the indigenous people has allegedly continued throughout the years till the present.

Hill-Genia says that one of her biggest supporters happens to be Roger Waters, from Pink Floyd. Waters has done his best to help preserve the land to the best of his ability through donations and participating in town board meetings. 

"He has been a big advocator. With Waters’ and many other activists help they have preserved about 25 acres in the past 20 years," she said. “Justice for the dead and the living!” 

Many indigenous activists have been putting their foot down to try and stop the building developments by raising funds to buy back their ancestral land from private owners. The activists have rallied against the town board to put in place a structure on what to do when such situations arise. They also brought up that there should be clear rules and regulations when coming across unmarked burial grounds. 

According to Hill-Genia, the responses from the private owners of the land are simple, “this is my private property. I can do what I want.”

The Shinnecock indigenous people have 30,000 years of ancestral history within the land. Hill-Genia wants them to be able to rebuild and restore the graveyards for their past loved ones. In fact, a few years ago there was a protest for the desecration of the hills and to stop builders from building oversized houses on the Shinnecock Hills. One house was already too far along in the process, however, the town promised to preserve and protect the rest of the land. The town even put up a sign stating, “Purchased for Generations to come!” 

However, one of the two plots was cleared. The process started about four months ago. In the application to build, the X-ray of the property implied to claim clear of bones done by a company. That same company when called stated that an x-ray will not show bones only metal.

Now, Hill-Genia feels that the Article Review board of the town is going back on their word and going against the Graves Protection Act that was put in place in 2020.

If you would like to help, one way is by contacting or donating to The Niamuck Land Trust (NLT), which has been legally incorporated as Niamuck Land Foundation, Inc. (NLF). It was founded in November 2021 by members of the Shinnecock Nation Graves Protection Warrior Society (GPWS). Their mission is to "protect, preserve and purchase burial sites, and other culturally significant sites sacred to the Shinnecock Nation and their neighboring indigenous communities. With a strong base on cultural education of and for the Shinnecock community, NLT was founded as an entity with the ability to raise funds and other resources to facilitate land acquisitions and continued stewardship of these sites as they are acquired for preservation, ceremonial, and educational purposes."

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