Long Island Native American leaders call for unmarked burial grounds law


Long Island Native American leaders have advocated for an unmarked burial grounds law, which would regulate the treatment of human remains found on construction sites, and have more widely spoken of the “horrific” treatment of Native American remains at construction sites. in many ways prompting, they said, the need for more sensitivity and education.

“I spent quite a bit of time dealing with the repatriation of human remains to Suffolk and Nassau counties,” said Harry B. Wallace, chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation, whose Poospatuck Reservation is in Mastic. . He and others spoke at a virtual panel discussion Thursday night sponsored by State Senator John Brooks (D-Seaford) and the Montaukett Nation of India.

During the program, titled “Connecting the Dots: Archeology, Unmarked Burial Sites & Land Acknowledgment Statements,” which drew over 60 people to Zoom, Wallace said, “In the past two years, we have… re-buried over 150 human remains. found in museums in the area.

Wallace said the remains were stored in boxes and “cloth bags and stacked on shelves and [in] cellars and attics. It was a horrible experience, and we did our best to restore our ancestors and loved ones to earth “with dignity.

Lance Gumbs, tribal ambassador for the Shinnecock Indian nation in Southampton and representative for the Northeast region to the National Congress of American Indians, also called for New York to pass an anonymous funeral law. New York is one of only three states without one, according to Wallace.

“New York is appalling” in its lack of protections for unmarked burial grounds, Gumbs said.

The bill would do three things, Wallace said.

“He established a committee to review Native American burial sites, [with] a representative of all [American Indian] nations in New York and a representative of the New York Archaeological Council and a forensic anthropologist, ”he said.

Second, he continued: “When there is an inadvertent discovery [of remains], all construction will stop until the site is considered sacred or sensitive, or whatever decision is made. “

“We are not reinventing the wheel,” he added, citing the laws of other states.

Finally, the proposed law would allow Native American nations, as well as individuals, to seek an injunction against offenders, and offenders could face a misdemeanor sentence, although Wallace has said he supports making it a felony.

Gumbs cited cases of remains handled with callousness. He recalled an owner who, being informed of the presence of human remains, said he would just pour concrete on it. Gumbs said such a response is a testament to the education needed.

Brooks said he would consider exploring the bill advocated by Wallace and Gumbs.

He added, “Sometimes when we think of American history, we start with pilgrims or something and forget that there were people here long before.… We have a great heritage that these Native Americans have. .We would do well to know more about our history [and] of their contributions. “

Correction: An earlier version of this story misinterpreted the title of Harry B. Wallace, who is the current leader of the Unkechaug Indian Nation.

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