East Coast Native - Indian News


Margo Thunderbird - Shinnecocks Propose New Laws For Native American Burial Sites

Joy Tonepahhote - Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian’s “Identity by Design: Tradition, Change and Celebration in Native Women’s Dresses”




Myths and Mythunderstandings
Shinnecocks Propose New Laws For Native American Burial Sites
Written By Margo Thunderbird Submitted By Rachel Valdez

On October 5, 2003 a Shelter Island couple, while digging a foundation for a horse barn in their yard, unearthed ancient aboriginal human remains, and with them uncovered and brought to light a pattern of desecration of Indian graves and sacred sites that spans the history of East End development from the 1600’s to 2004.
There is nothing unusual about Indian bones and graves being dug up on Long Island. The Shinnecock Golf Course has a bunker on its link that is simply the shoveled up bones they uncovered during the construction in 1891 and lumped together to get them out of the way. That information was never made public, but stories of the “Indian graves” on the fairway circulated on both the elite cocktail circuits and the Indian “moccasin grapevine”. And there are the houses and estates that cover the Shinnecock Hills. A very coveted address in some circles, but how many final resting places of the Shinnecock were displaced to make “room” for those new, big houses, and never reported? It would take too long to list all the desecrated cemeteries of the Montauk, Manhanset, and Shinnecock of the East End, much less west through the Unkechaug, Secatauge and Mattinnecock territories.

Native burial sites are scattered through-out Long Island and common sense tells us that of course this is so. Even the most truncated history served up in local public schools mention that at least thirteen tribes of Native people lived on the Island when the first white men arrived on these shores. It stands to reason that People of the Land traveled freely, making and breaking seasonal camp year after year. The practice of “Summering” on the south shore and “Wintering” inland was part of the Shinnecock lifestyle for centuries before the concept of the “Hamptons Summer People” ever came into being. The new concept that did travel to these lands with the new settlers was private property lines and ownership. However, until that turning point in history, the people had temporary villages in the good clamming places (Quogue), the good fishing places (Amagansett), and the gathering grounds (Tuckahoe). And they had the places of burial (Monchonock) that were kept separate and apart from the villages and kept sacred. The people knew the lands on which they lived and where their bodies would lie when their spirits passed on, returning to the earth to lie forever, until their bodies become rock and stones.

According to the Suffolk County Archaeological Association Newsletter concerning the Shelter Island/Richards discovery, “…This is a very typical scenario for finding skeletal remains on Long Island, but unusual in that the homeowners stopped excavation and the County’s forensic anthropologist has analyzed samples of the jumbled bones in fragile condition…”

Shinnecock tribal members who responded to calls from the County Medical Examiner’s office and Walter Richards, informing them of the find, and inviting them to the site, covered the remaining exposed skulls and bones with red cloth on the morning of October 9th, 2003. Those attending say that they were impressed by this unusual show of respect to our ancestors and spiritual ways, and they believed the expressed words of solidarity and comfort offered to the Tribe. Louise Green and Beverlea Walz of the Shelter Island Historical Society, along with Mrs. Richards’ parents, bonded together with the goal of both honoring and protecting this sacred site. The goodwill remained when the Richards family joined with the Shinnecock Nation and the Shelter Island Historical Society to donate money for the cost of the carbon dating tests. Everyone agreed that there should be no further disturbance of the site.

When Tribal members returned to the Osprey Road site to check on the graves in December, they were astonished to find a nearly complete horse barn covering the area. After being told by a man working on the barn that “the bones are still down there in the corner” they went back to the Reservation, and the Inter-Tribal Historical Preservation Task Force was formed.

While we, as Native People, as descendants and relatives of the uncovered skeletons, are willing to accept that Walter Richards unknowingly uncovered graves, we cannot accept his blatant disrespect to the final resting place of our ancient relatives by going forward with his barn building on top of that mass grave. We will not accept his willful and intentional disregard of the sanctity of a cemetery solely because these are Indian graves. This is racism in its most vile form.

The Task Force, made up of representatives of Shinnecock, Unkechaug, Montauk, and Narragansett Indians, drafted an ordinance for the Town of Shelter Island to adopt that will deal with the protection of Indian graves. Their Historical Society has a collection of detailed maps and descriptions of Indian graves located throughout Shelter Island. It has documented accounts of mass burials being uncovered, looted, and sold, bones and funerary items passing out of sight and memory.

The amount of information and number of locations of burials dotted round the island could lead one to believe that perhaps the primary use of Shelter Island to the native people was as a cemetery. A place apart from the villages from the living.
The Shelter Island Town Board is in the process of reviewing the proposed ordinance entitled, “Shelter Island Native American and Colonial Graves Protection and Repatriation Local Law.” Its purpose is to provide the protection of human graves and their contents. …”


There are numerous colonial graves and ancient Native American graves and funerary objects on Shelter Island which are unmarked and/or inadequately protected by law and are of great spiritual, cultural and historical significance. Such sites are vulnerable to unintentional disturbance in the course construction and other activities as well as intentional and deliberate destruction, vandalism and looting. It is the intent of this Local Law to provide protection and repatriation for such colonial and Native American graves and funerary objects…”

This working draft includes a list of definitions of such words and phrases as “burial sites,” “funerary objects,” “lineal descendents,” a proposed check list of proper procedures to follow in the event of accidental discovery, and a section on new construction notification. This step by step outline also provides protection for the discoverer, because civil and criminal penalties are attached to the law as well. Intentional desecration and disregard of the law will be punishable. Had this ordinance already been in place, there probably wouldn’t be a half finished horse barn causing the serious problems that it is.

Grave digging and grave robbing go hand in hand. Hundreds of East End residents and visitors could tell stories about finding arrowheads, pottery shards and other evidences of past civilizations in their fields and backyards, and very few of then make a real connection between these artifacts and native people they belong to. With a Town Law in place, we look forward to putting an end to the notion that ancient native objects and bone fragments are equivalent to souvenir beach shell collections. The joint association of the Shelter Island Town Board, the Shelter Island Historical Society and the Inter-Tribal Historical Preservation Task Force, is a unique positive step towards doing the right thing.

The Myth – there is no consequence for desecrating Indian graves, especially on private property.
The Myth-Understanding – Violations of our sacred burial grounds will never again go unchallenged.


Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian’s “Identity by Design: Tradition, Change and Celebration in Native Women’s Dresses”

Written by Joy Tonepahhote

There are very few times in my life where I have experienced a loss for words. Upon entering the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, in New York and gazing at their “Identity by Design: Tradition, Change and Celebration in Native Women’s Dresses” exhibit, I certainly experienced one of those times. Many of my Native friends told me about this exhibit when it was in Washington D.C. They all thought of me when they walked through the exhibit, wishing I could be there to see the beautiful dresses and beadwork. I was sad when I could not go and thanks to fate I received an opportunity to not just see the exhibit, but to be a part of this wonderfully put together piece of Native American history.


The Museum of the American Indian has put together a display of dresses starting in the 1800’s to present. They have showcased the Native dresses from the Great Plains. The museum has sectioned the dresses into different eras to show how several Native tribal dresses have evolved. The Museum showcases several tribes such as the Sioux, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Shoshone, Crow, etc… The displays of dresses start with the use of one hide to three hides. The exhibit also shows the progression of the use of beadwork. Starting with basic strips of beadwork to elaborate well designed massive pieces of beadwork. Each display tells the story of what the beadwork means as well as who made each piece.


The craftsmanship put into the dresses is breathtaking. As someone who has created regalia for my family and friends I can truly appreciate the time, energy and effort put into each piece of beadwork. It makes me grateful to see our rich history being displayed at the Smithsonian.


My name is Joy “Au Toin Mah” Tone-Pah-Hote. I am Kiowa from Anadarko, Oklahoma and Maya “Gyumi” from Conquintu’ Panama. I dance Southern Traditional, Kiowa style. I spend my summer on the pow-wow trail dancing and singing with SilverCloud singers from New York. I currently live in Pennsylvania with my two daughters who also sing and dance. I also create beadwork, mostly on a loom. I had the pleasure of being asked to come to the Museum of the American Indian, in New York to demonstrate different styles of beading. I am at the museum Tuesdays and Wednesday 10am – 12 pm and 1pm – 3pm from October 7 through the Spring of 2009. Please stop by to see this amazing exhibit “Identity by Design: Tradition, Change and Celebration in Native Women’s Dresses” at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian.

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