Partner Profile | Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society

Photo courtesy of Dana Shaw

December 20, 2021

Founded in 2016 to protect and preserve known and unknown burial sites on Long Island, the Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society (Society) has worked tirelessly to bring the issue to the forefront. The Society – co-chaired by Rebecca Genia and Shane Weeks – is a cultural entity recognized by the Shinnecock Nation to lead this work on behalf of the community.

“The Society was founded in order to raise awareness and stand up for the injustices continued on our people. Due to the absence of respect for our people historically, our sacred sites and burial grounds have been desecrated time and time again with no regard for the Indigenous people as a living community,” said Weeks. “The Society stands up for those sacred sites and the rights of our people. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the Southampton Town Graves Protection Act (STGPA) are extremely important in this work because without them, there are no penalties for private or public land owners who dig up remains. They also establish protocol for their return to our people and ultimately back to the earth.”

The Trust staff, led by President John v.H. Halsey, has worked with the Society and the Shinnecock Nation to assist in the conservation of sites, including the Hawthorne Road* site in 2018 and most recently the Sugar Loaf Hill Summit – both in the Shinnecock Hills section of Southampton Town.

An important part of the Society’s work is to coordinate and facilitate the repatriation of human remains and funerary objects returned to Shinnecock from museums and institutions that acquired those remains throughout the years.

This work has been made possible in part due to the Nation’s Federal recognition, achieved in 2010 through the diligence of members of the Nation after over 30 years of petition. Through Federal Recognition, the Nation gained status under the NAGPRA – federal legislation that passed in 1990. Under the Act, museums, universities, and other institutions are required to turn over remains and funerary objects to federally recognized tribes that make a formal request. 

In recent years, human remains returned to the Nation have been reburied in areas across the East End that are near where they were found. The Trust has supported the Society in this initiative by providing land for this purpose. 

“The relationship between the Society and the Trust has been very instrumental in returning our indigenous ancestors that have been dug up from their graves back to the earth. Because access to many sites and sacred places has been cut off to our people, the Trust has been able to provide areas of their lands that will never be developed for us to reinter our ancestors as close as possible to where they came,” said Weeks.

Also important to the work of the Society is the passage in 2020 of Southampton Town’s Graves Protection Act (STGPA). The Act created a town archaeologist post and requires that a person who discovers an unmarked grave to immediately cease construction and notify Southampton Town police. The Act also provides a process for the possible conservation of the land through the Town’s Community Preservation Fund. The hope is that this will become a model for other municipalities in the state.

The Shinnecock Nation and Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society were instrumental in getting action on the part of the Southampton Town Board to make this Act a reality.

*Hawthorne Road: In August 2018, human remains were found during excavation for a new residence on Hawthorne Road in Shinnecock Hills. The human remains were determined to be part of an ancient burial site. The Town of Southampton protected the land from future development by acquiring it through the Town’s Community Preservation Fund in 2019 – a result achieved because of the Society’s advocacy. The Trust facilitated the sale by negotiating a management agreement with the seller.

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