A New York Native American tribe has condemned Gov. Kathy Hochul's veto of a bill protecting unmarked burial sites, saying the move demonstrates "a continued bias against Native American communities in New York."
Just a handful of states have yet to enact laws protecting Indigenous peoples' remains from "desecration and destruction," the Shinnecock Council of Trustees said in a Friday statement to Law360, adding that Hochul "is the only person standing in the way of New York joining" the majority of states that have enacted such legislation. The federally recognized Shinnecock Indian Nation's reservation is located in Southampton.
"The Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act had overwhelming support in both the State Assembly and State Senate, but Governor Hochul vetoed the bill after unjustified and unpalatable amendments to the bill were rejected," the council said, adding that Hochul last month also vetoed legislation for the state recognition of Montaukett Indians.
Hochul vetoed the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act on Dec. 30, reasoning that, to be enacted, the legislation would need to better protect both the property owners and descendants involved.
The legislation laid out a process for handling newly discovered burial sites, including prohibiting the disturbance of sites discovered during development. From there, the bill proposed that the burial site be reported to the local coroner and, for remains older than 50 years, a state-appointed archeologist, who would be charged with determining whether the remains are of Native American origin.
The bill proposed creating a Native American burial site review committee, which would adopt a standard plan for determining the descendants and cultural groups of those buried.
The bill passed the state Senate in May nearly unanimously. But the executive office could not reach an agreement with state lawmakers that "would balance the rights of property owners with the interests of families of lineal descendants and other groups," Hochul said in the veto message, which was provided to Law360 by a spokesperson for state Sen. Leroy Comrie, who sponsored the bill.
"I recognize the need for a process to address the handling of unearthed human remains in a way that is respectful to lineal descendants or culturally affiliated groups," Hochul said. "However, any process addressing the handling of unearthed human remains that also involves the private property of New Yorkers must appropriately protect both interests."