$ 5.6 million purchase of Sacred Shinnecock Cemetery completed


Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation gathered at dusk on Tuesday atop Sugar Loaf Hill in Southampton to mark the “historic” purchase of the sacred plot by Peconic Land Trust.

The $ 5.6 million sale of the 4.6 acres, which closed earlier on Tuesday, was a crucial next step in restoring and protecting a property that served as a tribal cemetery in Shinnecock for 3,000 years. Atop the property overlooking Shinnecock Bay, members of the tribe, who have fought for decades to reclaim the site, expressed their joy, relief and determination to continue the effort.

“It’s probably one of the best feelings you can have at heart,” said Rebecca “Becky” Genia, co-chair of the Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society, who helped lead this decades-long effort. Since 1859, she said, “We have wanted to come back here and have never been allowed to, so we are here and we are going to restore our beautiful Sugar Loaf Hill to its natural state.”

The tribe, in a statement, noted that the land purchase marked a “historic moment in our more than 10,000 year existence on Long Island” and a “major step towards the protection and preservation of our burial grounds. sacred as the Shinnecock people “.

The next step is to begin removing a 7,000 square foot home and pool from the property. The Peconic Land Trust and the tribe have up to a year to complete the work, said Shane Weeks, co-chair of the Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society.

“We are looking to get started as soon as possible” with funding from the Peconic Land Trust and other sources, Weeks said. He called the work a “huge achievement” and gave credit to Southampton City Council and Genia’s “tireless and intrepid efforts” over the decades.

At the same time, Weeks said, the tribe will work with Southampton Town to formulate details of a hiking trail through part of the property that would be for general use. The City of Southampton purchased a conservation easement on the property in a concurrent transaction, using $ 5.3 million in community preservation funds.

The public “will have access to a path which can provide the public with beautiful panoramic views over Shinnecock Bay,” said Southampton City Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, one of the major backers of the purchase and land conservation. He called the transaction a “very important moment” for the Shinnecock Nation.

Once the restoration is complete, the Peconic Land Trust will ask Southampton City Council to approve the transfer of land title to the Shinnecock people, the tribe said. This is the first time that land in the vast Shinnecock Hills has been returned under tribal control.

“It is a sacred part of the culture and history of Shinnecock,” said John Bouvier, member of Southampton City Council. “It’s finally nice to be able to see that this is going to be preserved and protected as it was intended and should have been. I am very happy that this is happening.”

The exact way in which the transfer will take place is still being worked out. Schneiderman said the city would demand a waiver of sovereign immunity from the entity taking title to the land, so the city can “enforce its easement,” as its purchase requires. This easement requires that no structure be put on the property and that it be maintained in a manner appropriate for a cemetery, Schneiderman said. The Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society could be such an entity, although the plan is still in the works.

“We have not determined the details of what this transfer will look like,” Weeks said. Either way, he added, “Shinnecock members will be in control. [of the parcel] long-term.”

John Halsey, founder and chairman of the Peconic Land Trust, said atop Sugar Loaf Hill that the purchase “is long in coming” and marked the “promise of a new start” in the Shinnecock peoples’ relationship with the city.

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