A couple of months back I was deeply critical of New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who seems determined to adopt positions that antagonize and injure the state’s Indigenous Peoples when easier and less controversial options were available. It is as if she seeks conflict. I mentioned this in a piece I wrote about how Hochul engineered funding for the new Buffalo Bills stadium.
At the end of last year, Governor Hochul vetoed a bill that passed both houses of the New York State Legislature unanimously. 47 states have adopted legislation that does what the New York Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act would do. According to a statement made by the Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society quoted in the East End Beacon:
Forty-seven states have laws that protect the remains of indigenous people and others from desecration and destruction, and now Gov. Hochul is the only person standing in the way of New York joining that list. This is yet another slap in the face in line with centuries of brutal settler colonialism and violent land theft.”
Governor Hochul said that the law, as passed by the legislature, did not adequately respect the private property rights of landowners who might uncover the remains of Indigenous peoples on their own land. The bill, she said, would require all activity to cease at a site where human remains were discovered. An archeologist would then be granted access to the site to determine as much as possible about the remains and then issue a report to the Native American Review committee.
“Throughout this process,” Hochul complained, “which does not have a specified end date or window, the property owners would have no authority over their own real property, and be forced to accept decisions that impact their property.” While expressing sympathy for the need for a law treating unmarked graves, Hochul said that “any process addressing the handling of unearthed human remains that also involves the private property of New Yorkers must appropriately protect both interests. This bill, as drafted, does not do so.”
This is obscene. New York took its current shape, and became the Empire State, through a systematic program of Indigenous dispossession. It is difficult to imagine a situation so urgent that landowners could not await a determination about the nature of the human remains buried on their land. Hochul has shown that she is little different than generations of New York governors who value only the land rights of those whose property was wrested from the Indians in a process that at times violated the laws of the United States. Hopefully the legislature will quickly override the Governor’s veto, and lead New York to do what it ought to have done long ago.