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Shinnecock tribe protest Hamptons development that threaten sacred burial sites

Protesters rallying in front of Southampton Town Hall on Monday, July 11.
Daniel Hopkins
Long Island Progressive Coalition
Protesters rallying in front of Southampton Town Hall on Monday, July 11.

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation continued their protest against development in the Shinnecock Hills neighborhood of the Hamptons by holding a rally on Monday outside of Southampton Town Hall.

Five-acres of land in Southampton is on the chopping block for a new subdivision. Members of the tribe’s Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society want town officials to use the Community Preservation Fund to protect the property — just like the town did earlier this year on Sugar Loaf Hill after ancient human remains were discovered at the construction of a mansion in 2019.

Recent ground penetrating radar shows the mansion might have been built on top of 10,000 corpses in May. The property is in roughly the same neighborhood as the proposed subdivision.

“The ancestors are looking down at us and they're with us and smiling today,” said Rebecca Genia, activist and tribal member. “I know they're smiling because we are going to stop this desecration, we're going to stop the ruining and destruction of ancient burials.

Genia, who co-chairs the tribe’s grave protection society, said that the town has allowed developers to dig up land believed to be sacred burial sites.

“Where's our harmony on our balance, you know, to give and give since 1640 and have nothing in return, just take and take and take and take,” Genia said. “We don't have to shut up. We're not abused children. We were for a long time and we're not anymore. We're here to stand up and not stand down.”

The fight over the land is one of the many battles that tribal members have right now with the town. At least 16 people, including Genia, were arrested over the weekend during protests that brought attention to housing, climate change and beach access.

Tela Troge, who is Shinnecock and an Indigenous sovereignty attorney, said the land is too important to keep letting the town ignore them.

“We can't support the overdevelopment,” Troge said. “The developers, you're gonna have to leave and go find somewhere else to destroy because we're not going to allow it here. We're not gonna stand idly by while our ancestors are dug out of the ground in front of our eyes.”

Tribal members want the town to use its Community Preservation Fund to purchase and protect the property, as it did with the other mansion.

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.
Jeniece Roman is WSHU's Report for America corps member who writes about Indigenous communities in Southern New England and Long Island, New York.