© 2023 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Shinnecock Indian Nation urges Town of Southampton to protect area near their tribal territory

Danny Hopkins
Long Island Progressive Coalition
Shane Weeks, co-chair of the Shinnecock Graves Protection Society, offers encouragement to members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation rallying in Southampton, N.Y., near their federally recognized tribal territory, on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, to call for local town officials to use a special preservation fund to purchase culturally sensitive properties to return to the tribe.

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation rallied along Montauk Highway on Monday to urge the Town of Southampton to protect culturally sensitive areas near its tribal territory.

This comes after the town made a deal last year to return a property through a land trust where ancient tribal burial grounds were uncovered in a wealthy Hamptons neighborhood.

Tela Troge, a Shinnecock citizen and Indigenous rights attorney, said the town needs to respect the history of the land instead of allowing mansions and golf courses to be built.

“For Southampton to continuously be selling cemeteries to build new mansions, it's just unethical, it's wrong and it goes against human decency,” Troge said. “We’re just asking that the town use the money to stop the over development, save the environment, stop our ancestors from being unearthed from their graves — their final resting stops — and just do the right thing and use the Community Preservation Fund for its stated purpose.”

Southampton has access to hundreds of millions of dollars through the Community Preservation Fund, which is generated by a 2% tax on real estate transactions in the five easternmost towns on Long Island. The money is set aside for historic preservation, water quality upgrades and preserving open space.

Troge also said that the town isn’t following its own standard of notifying the tribe every time a developer chooses land and applies for a subdivision in these areas, which were predetermined together by the tribe and town.

“On these beautiful vacant cemeteries, you start to see four or five homes pop up which contributes to the overpopulation, contributes to the pollution, contributes to the general ecocide in the area, the cultural genocide in the area. It goes on and on,” Troge said. “This can all be easily prevented using this pot of money the Southampton Town already has and has complete control over and they just need to do the right thing.”

Rebecca Genia, the co-chair of the Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society, said Southampton has been taking advantage of the tribe for a long time.

“In Shinnecock Hills, we aren’t allowed to speak up for the desecration of the graves of our ancestors, for the overdevelopment crisis that’s going on, speak up for the wild life and the plant life that they’re destroying on a regular basis here and our ancestral territory that we love,” Genia said. “This is our home, our life, our history, our culture, our heritage. Everything is here in these hills and they shoved us off the hills in 1859 and shoved us onto the Shinnecock reservation neck [of the harbor].”

The tribe wants land preserved near the Village of Southampton, south of the highway near the ocean and in the northern Shinnecock Hills, a wealthy Hamptons neighborhood with mansions and a golf course. Last year, the town completed a deal to return land there where a tribal ancient burial site was unearthed during construction.

Genia said she is worried about recent construction nearby.

The 15 parcels of land the tribe has marked total over $26 million.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said protecting undeveloped parcels in Shinnecock Hills is a top priority for him and the town.

“We have been very active as a town board in trying to protect the lands up in Shinnecock Hills for development,” Schneiderman said.

“We have taken a whole bunch of initiatives when we have targeted all the vacant land up there for possible preservation,” he said. “We’ve done outreach to property owners to see if they’re willing sellers and we have acquired quite a number of parcels. I'm not even sure that some of the members of the Shinnecock Nation are aware of how much land we have preserved in that area.”

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.