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Unmarked graves bill reintroduced: Gov. Hochul vetoed legislation in 2022

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) has reintroduced legislation to protect unmarked burial grounds across the state. Despite passage in 2022 by both houses of the New York State Legislature, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) vetoed the legislation last year.

The 2022 legislation was sponsored by former assemblyman Steve Englebright.

In her veto message, the governor said, “I recognize the need for a process to address the handling of unearthed remains in a way that is respectful of linear descendants or culturally affiliated groups.” But she said a process that involves “the private property of New Yorkers must protect both interests … This bill, as drafted, does not do so.”

New York is one of only three states that don’t provide comprehensive protections to determine the cultural affiliation and disposition of human remains interred in unmarked burial sites. The burial grounds contain many unmarked graves of enslaved and Indigenous people.

A team from the University of Massachusetts has held extensive digs and archaeological seminars on the property.

From left, Archaeologist and anthropologist Stephen Mrozowski, Donnamarie Barnes, curator/archivist of Sylvester Manor and Shane Weeks on the Sylvester Manor grounds. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

Mr. Thiele’s bill would enact necessary measures to prevent additional destruction of sites such as the many unmarked graves on Sylvester Manor grounds. “Native burial sites throughout New York deserve protection and should be accorded dignity and respect,” Mr. Thiele said.

Native American communities like the Shinnecocks, the Ukechaugs and the Montauketts in his district have worked diligently to protect their sacred burial lands, the legislator said.

Town and County preservation funds have also played a critical role in preserving unmarked burial sites on the East End, Mr. Thiele said. He called Ms. Hochul’s decision to veto this legislation last year “ill-considered” and said the governor must take a fresh look at the issue.

“Justice demands it,” Mr. Thiele said.