The Shinnecock Nation's Fight To Protect Sacred Land In Southampton

by Stephanie Maida · August 28, 2020

    For over 90 days the country has been gripped by widespread protests against injustice, but on the East End of Long Island, the place so many New Yorkers seek solace come summertime (or a pandemic), such action is unfortunately nothing new for members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. It's about time more of us paid attention.

    This week, the Shinnecock Nation Graves Protection Warrior Society issued an urgent call to action to put pressure on Southampton officials to pass a moratorium on further development in the Shinnecock Hills and create legislation which protects the Nation's sacred ancestral lands and burial sites. 

    While the struggle between the Shinnecock Nation and local government has gone on for years - and resulted in the need for multiple reburials due to the disturbance of graves through continued construction - this recent action, which included a protest on Tuesday at Southampton Town Hall, comes in time for a much-delayed vote by the Southampton Town Board on the Graves Protection Act and the proposed moratorium. 

    "New York State is one of [the only] states that do not have grave protection laws in place to deal with anything like this, so there's really no way to monitor whether or not builders and homeowners are coming across burial ground. These laws would help that," says Bianca Collins, a member of the Shinnecock Nation Graves Protection Warrior Society and land defense activist.

    "We have people flocking to the East End of Long Island," Collins continues. And despite multiple talks with local legislators, "there are permits being provided to people to continue to build and develop in the Shinnecock Hills with the town knowing very well that they could potentially be desecrating the graves of our ancestors. It's been months now and there's really no excuse for it so we decided that we had to call attention to it and get our allies out once more to amplify our voices and for [Southampton Supervisor] Jay Schneiderman and the board to hear us when we say that it needs to stop. Because now it's become intentional desecration."

    The vote is set to occur on September 8th. Activists are hosting a virtual action on Monday, while the Graves Protection Warrior Society are asking allies to make calls to Southampton officials to voice their support of legislation which would protect their sacred land. There is also a petition HERE.

    "The Town Board should know that these are our ancestral burial grounds and it's not up for discussion anymore," says Collins. "We're just asking them to do the right thing. It's basic human decency. A burial ground is a cemetery and our ancestors deserve to rest in peace just like anyone else's."

    [Photo via @cooperationli]