The Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society (GPWS), founded in 2016, is a group of members of the Shinnecock Nation working together to protect and preserve known and unknown burial sites on Long Island. GPWS is Chaired by Rebecca Genia and Shane Weeks and consists of several other Shinnecock members and is supported by the members of several tribes nation wide.
The battle to protect sacred burial grounds in the Americas is an age old conflict and continues on to present day. For the Shinnecock Nation, the sacred burial grounds generally lie within the bounds of the Southampton Township. periodically ancient and colonial graves are dug up and uncovered. For the Shinnecock, they feel an inherent responsibility to protect and preserve their ancestral burial grounds and those that are resting in peace there.
Due to the fact that the Shinnecock Nation is the only Federally Recognized tribe with lands on Long Island, accompanied by the State recognized tribe, the Unkechaug Nation, they regularly take up the duty to preserve and protect the burial sites of the other indigenous communities on the Island that do not hold the same status.
The GPWS has worked diligently with State and Town officials when remains are uncovered. Their ultimate goal when this happens is for the land to be purchased and the remains to be returned to the site from which they came. When this is not possible the GPWS seeks to rebury the remains as close to the original site as possible.
In recent years, the GPWS has been successful in preserving a burial site where remains were uncovered in 2018. The remains that were dug up were reinterned back to the original place they came from. The Society has also been working closely with Town of Southampton Officials in proactive negotiation to preserve suspected and known burial sites. One such action resulted in the approval of legislation in the Town of Southampton imposing heavy penalties for not reporting remains uncovered during development on private property. The first of its kind in the Town. Along side the legislation, the town also imposed a moratorium on parts of culturally sensitive areas in the Shinnecock Hills. The moratorium would require new development to go through a series of archeological surveys to determine if there are remains on the property.
A part of the Society's work is also to coordinate and facilitate the repatriation of remains and funerary objects returned to Shinnecock from museums and institutions that acquired those remains throughout the years.
Conscience Point, featured on PBS, is a film that speaks heavily on the efforts Shinnecock members have taken to preserve and protect their sacred sites and living grounds throughout the centuries. The film offers history and viewpoints from Shinnecock people through their lens on a platform never before used for such a cause.
Shane and other GPWS members regularly sit on panel discussions during screenings of Conscience Point.
Conscience Point is now available to rent on Vimeo.
July 20, 2021
On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, the Peconic Land Trust closed on the Nappa property known as the peak of Sugar Loaf Hill in the Sugar Loaf Hill Critical Environmental Area. This event was preceded by the authorization from the Town Of Southampton to use the Community Preservation Fund to purchase an easement on the property for $5.3 million on June 8, 2021.
This historic moment in our over 10,000 years of existence on Long Island, marks a great step in progress towards protecting and preserving our sacred burial grounds as Shinnecock people. Though there is much more work to be done, the tireless efforts of our community and our supporters has resulted in acquiring the critical funding needed for the preservation of approximately 4.5 acres that overlooks Shinnecock Bay.
Following today's closing on the property, the Peconic Land Trust will work closely with the Graves Protection Warrior Society to restore the land and remove the existing structures in what will be a year long restoration project. Upon completion of the restoration of the land to its natural state, the fee title of the parcel will be returned to Shinnecock.
This will be the first time in history that Shinnecock land within the Shinnecock Hills will be returned to, and reclaimed by the Shinnecock Nation.
Sugar Loaf Hill is among the most sacred areas to the Shinnecock people within the Shinnecock Hills. Our people have historically used the area and other parts of the Shinnecock Hills as a burial ground for many thousands of years up until the time of colonization when our people were forcefully removed in the mid 1800's. The fight to protect, preserve, and reclaim this land has been led by members of our community for generations.
In the wake of the uncovering of over 1,500 indigenous children's remains in primarily unmarked burials found at 7 of the nearly 500 Residential "Indian" Schools in North America, it is important for us to reiterate our cause. Many Shinnecock children attended these very schools. Though mainstream society has forgotten, erased, or failed to teach of the atrocities committed at those institutions, our indigenous communities have never forgotten. Despite the fact that many of the children's graves at those schools are unmarked, as are many of the graves in the Shinnecock Hills, our people have not forgotten they are there. We will continue our fight to protect and honor our buried ancestors, whether they were buried 200, or 2,000 years ago, so that they may continue to rest in peace.
We would like to thank the Southampton Town Board for following through with long standing negotiations and maintaining an open line of discussion around these efforts. We also thank the Peconic Land Trust for taking the forefront at the negotiating table on our behalf to acquire this area. We could not have achieved this without the time and love from all of our supporters who have come out and rallied side by side with our community to have our voices heard and our plea acknowledged.
Co-Chair Rebecca Genia
Co-Chair Shane Weeks
The Peconic Land Trust has established a special fund for the acquisition, restoration and ongoing stewardship of Shinnecock sacred land in the Town of Southampton.
In July 2021, the Trust acquired the summit of Sugar Loaf Hill in Shinnecock Hills. Simultaneously, the Town of Southampton purchased the development rights on the property forever protecting it from residential development. The Trust will remove the existing residence and restore the property to its natural state in conjunction with the Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society (GPWS).
The Trust’s intent is to transfer the land to the Shinnecock people as soon as practicable with the approval of the Town.
The Shinnecock Land Acquisition and Stewardship Fund supports the Trust’s efforts to acquire, restore and steward sacred Shinnecock land in conjunction with the GPWS.
You can make a tax-deductible gift in support of Shinnecock Land Acquisition and Stewardship Fund through the Peconic Land Trust online or by mail to Peconic Land Trust, 296 Hampton Road, Southampton, NY 11968. Please indicate Shinnecock Land Acquisition and Stewardship Fund when making your donation.
Key Burial Ground to be Returned.
July 20, 2021
East End Beacon Sugar Loaf Hill
Southampton Exploring protection of Burial Site Feb. 27, 2020
Moratorium to Protect Burial Site Adopted
Sept. 8, 2020
Southampton Town Votes to Preserve Sugar Loaf Hill
June 15, 2021
Land Deal Urged to Save Burial Ground
June 3, 2021