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New bill to protect unmarked graves introduced following veto

Shinnecock Indian Nation

A proposal that would safeguard unmarked burial grounds across New York was introduced into legislation last week.

State Assemblymember Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) has introduced a bill that would provide protection of remains discovered in unmarked graves. The legislation, known as A.2029, would put in place measures to prevent the destruction of remains or funerary items that have been uncovered by developers.

Elements of the bill are similar to The Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act that Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed in December.

The controversial decision led a group of tribal nations that included the Shinnecock and Unkechaug to condemn Hochul for the decision. It was a bill that the tribes had worked for the past 25 years to pass that bill.

In December, The Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society and Honor Our Indigenous Ancestors, Inc. issued a joint statement in response to the veto. In the statement, leaders said that Hochul is the only person standing in the way of the passage of the bill.

New York is one of only three states to not have a law that completely protects the remains of Indigenous people and others from desecration and destruction.

Thiele said introducing the new bill might give the governor the chance to take a fresh look at this issue.

Jeniece Roman is WSHU's Report for America corps member who writes about Indigenous communities in Southern New England and Long Island, New York.