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Oct 10, 2018 10:35 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board Approves Using CPF To Purchase Shinnecock Hills Property Where Skeletal Remains Were Found

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman at Tuesday's Town Board meeting. JD ALLEN
Oct 10, 2018 11:25 AM

The boardroom at Southampton Town Hall echoed cries of “tabutne,” the Shinnecock word for “thank you” on Tuesday afternoon, after Town Board members approved the use of Community Preservation Fund revenues to purchase the Hawthorne Road property in Shinnecock Hills where human skeletal remains, thought to be an ancient Shinnecock Indian Nation leader, were found during construction in August.

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman championed the deal made with Konstantin Beladidze, the property owner, under KB Southampton LLC of Water Mill, for an agreed upon price of $450,000.

In lieu of an earlier plan to allow the Shinnecock Indian Nation to steward the land, the board is in the process of forming a joint advisory committee comprised of three town officials and three members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation to manage culturally and archaeologically sensitive land—led by Town Community Preservation Manager Mary C. Wilson. The Hawthorne property will join three other parcels that are already on the list of charges for the committee.

“I look forward to working with the Nation to protect and manage this property,” Mr. Schneiderman said after a lengthy public hearing to discuss the planned purchase.

He also touted another deal between Mr. Beladidze and the Shinnecock Indian Nation that for a donation of $50,000, the LLC will return the remains to the property, fill in the large excavation hole made by construction crews, and turn the land into a park-like setting.

Many community members, including Serena Lee of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, thought the town should pay the remaining balance to restore the property.

“This is a long time coming,” Ms. Lee said. “It’s about time we have been recognized as the founding fathers of this land, no disrespect.

“Life is more than money,” she continued. “Gift us the land.”

The town is prohibited from paying more than fair market value for any property purchased. “It’s seen as a gift of taxpayer money—we cannot do that,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

“Well, the Shinnecock Nation should not have to pay for stolen land,” Southampton resident Tony Ernest said.

Meanwhile, members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation have been working to raise $50,000 to meet the agreement. As of the Town Board meeting Tuesday, the tribe had raised about $7,400. Rebecca Genia, who has been leading the nation’s crowdfunding campaign, said in an interview that they’ve reached $10,000 in cash, online donations and verified pledges.

Stephen Anderson, a resident, even made a pledge of $5,000 at the podium. But Ms. Genia acknowledged the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s fundraising effort is “going too slow.” She said she doesn’t expect the board to pitch in any more money.

“I don’t think you can get blood from a stone at this point,” Ms. Genia said. “This is a movement. Our entire Hills are sensitive and sacred. We aren’t going to stop until everything is preserved in perpetuity.”

Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs said in an interview the $50,000 “won’t be a problem.”

No one spoke in opposition to the town’s plan to spend CPF revenue on preserving the residential property for the Shinnecock. Neighbors, including Cynthia Myers Bartlett, president of the homeowners association on Hawthorne Road, and Patrice Trichon, who lives next door to the burial site, did call for the town’s oversight in restoring the property.

“It’s an eyesore,” Ms. Trichon said. “We are not familiar with the Shinnecock’s traditions, but we want it to look nice and for us to have our privacy while being respectful of their customs and land.”

Ms. Myers Bartlett requested a grave marker—with a stone, tree or otherwise—be placed at the burial site, and for the newly-formed committee to keep the homeowner’s association in the loop going forward.

“The land will be maintained with the highest degree of cultural sensitivity meant for quiet reflection,” Mr. Schneiderman said. After a decade-long push by Ms. Genia, the town is also pursuing possible legislation to offer a procedure for when ancient human skeletal remains are found on private property.

Other voices in support came from members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, including Kelly Dennis, a Southampton attorney, and Shane Weeks, a member of the Southampton Town Arts and Cultural Center Committee, who reminded the board of how history has treated their people.

Ms. Dennis claimed there are remains from at least 20 of her ancestors in museums and private collections that were dug up in Shinnecock Hills.

“This has happened before, and this is not going to be the last time this has happened,” she said.

Mr. Weeks, speaking in Shinnecock, said his language was even illegal to utter at one point.

Thomas Oleszczuk, a resident of Noyac and “ally of the Shinnecock,” praised the deal as a step forward “to bring our peoples together to settle the crimes of the past.”

Dressed in head-to-toe tribal regalia, Chenae Bullock asked that the board members stick to the plan they’ve promised to carry out.

“There is hundreds and hundreds of years of history between the town and my ancestors dealing with similar issues,” Ms. Bullock said. “I trust we can all hold our work, even though it hasn’t happened in the past. Keep us in your mind when you are making your decisions, because we don’t sit in the seats you do.”

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Regrade and leave it natural, as it was.
By knitter (1725), Southampton on Oct 10, 18 2:51 PM
Would you please add a link to access the fundraising effort?
By fishcove (38), southampton on Oct 10, 18 6:54 PM
If you want an eye opening view of how political the CFP funds are- look into the projects they have refused. If there isn’t a political benefit to using the funds- they aren’t getting approved.

Whoever votes for Jay Scheiderman needs their head examined.
By SlimeAlive (1180), Southampton on Oct 11, 18 7:35 AM
1 member liked this comment
Jay Schneiderman has my vote! Where do you suggest I get my head examined? Perhaps by Ben Carson -- he is qualified to examine my head but not to run Housing and Urban Development.

$450,000 of CPF funds to purchase a Shinnecock burial ground is money put to good use.
By Aeshtron (319), Southampton on Oct 11, 18 1:18 PM
You are missing the point. Are you aware of the other CPF purchases that could have been made and weren't? SlimeAlive didn't say they should or shouldn't purchase this. They said there are many others that are also worthy that get ignored completely. LOTS of $$ in CPF just sitting there.
By bb (884), Hampton Bays on Oct 11, 18 3:06 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser