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.
Click here to learn more about the work GPWS has done to reclaim one of Shinnecock's most sacred sites, Sugar Loaf Hill
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