Thiele Introduces Bill to Protect Unmarked Burials Following Hochul Veto

Shinnecock Nation members and friends gather to honor remains found at a development on the tribe's sacred Sugar Loaf Hill burial grounds
Shinnecock Nation members and friends gather to honor remains found at a development on the tribe’s sacred Sugar Loaf Hill burial grounds
Bryan Downey

Assemblymember Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) announced Tuesday that he has introduced the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act to safeguard unmarked burial grounds across New York. This legislation, previously sponsored by former Assemblyman Englebright, passed both houses last year, but Governor Hochul vetoed the bill in December 2022.

Currently, New York is one of only three states that do not provide comprehensive protections to determine the cultural affiliation and disposition of human remains interred in an unmarked burial site.

According to Thiele, this legislation (A.2029) would enact the necessary measures to prevent additional destruction of these sites when culturally significant remains or funerary items are uncovered by developers during home construction or renovation.

NY Governor Kathy Hochul and NY State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.
NY Governor Kathy Hochul and NY State Assemblymember Fred W. Thiele Jr. do not see eye to eye on unmarked burial sites

“Native burial sites throughout New York deserve protection and should be accorded dignity and respect. Native American communities like the Shinnecocks, the Ukechaugs and the Montauketts in my district have worked diligently to protect their sacred burial lands,” Thiele explained in his announcement.

He also pointed out that the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) has been an invaluable part of efforts to preserve critical sites like the Sugar Loaf in Shinnecock Hills.

Members of the Shinnecock Nation had for years tried to protect their ancestral burial ground on the land known as Sugar Loaf Hill, located on Montauk Highway in Southampton, before CPF funds were used to purchase the land so it could be returned to its natural state and preserved, safe from development.

“This bill would provide much needed protection to these sites. It is a crucial step in righting the wrongs of the past by giving these lands the recognition and protection that Native American burial grounds deserve,” the Assemblyman continued, adding, “The Governor’s decision to veto this legislation last year was ill-considered. The Governor must take a fresh look at this issue. Justice demands it.”

In December, Hochul vetoed a bill that would grant the Montaukett Tribe NY State recognition, and she vetoed an effort to change Columbus Day officially to Indigenous Peoples Day in September, leading to criticism from NY tribes, including the Seneca, which have called out the Governor for her “pattern of disrespect” toward tribal nations and their people.

In closing, Thiele said, “I look forward to working with my Assembly colleagues, the Senate, and the Governor to help our Native American communities preserve these sacred lands.”

Past iterations of the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act date back as far as 2009.

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