Tribal Courts of New York
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N.Y. State Unified Court System  •  United States Courts for the Second Circuit Resident in the State of New York
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Projects - Passage of Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act


Introduction

Numerous unmarked burial sites in the state are in danger of being damaged or destroyed because of a lack of adequate protection under current law. Such sites are sacred to the groups with which they are culturally affiliated and the lineal descendants of the dead.

New York is one of the only four states in the nation without statutory protection for Native American burial sites or unmarked burial sites in general. There have been several known incidents of negligent or deliberate failure to protect sites, which were disturbed by development activity, as well as looting. This legislation is necessary to prevent additional destruction of these sites, which are of great historical and cultural significance to all the people of the state.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) was passed on November 16, 1990. It defined ownership and provided for the return of Native American (including Hawaiian) human remains and objects from museums. It also established procedures for future acquisitions. Subsequently, human remains and certain objects could be claimed (or repatriated) by lineal descendants or federally recognized tribes under certain conditions.

NAGPRA also made it illegal to sell or buy or transport for sale Native remains or sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony without the legal right to do so. After 1990, a buyer or seller had to prove the right of possession by having the consent of the party with the authority to dispose of the items. Most states now have grave protection laws and some provide for repatriation.

Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act

In 2021, New York State Democratic Senator Leroy Comrie sponsored Senate Bill S5701 which enacts the “unmarked burial site protection act”, to regulate the discovery of burial grounds, human remains, and funerary objects; requires the reporting of such discovery to the local coroner; provides that if such remains are more than 50 years old, the state archaeologist shall be notified; requires state archaeologist to determine whether the remains are of Native American origin; provides that the lineal descendants or culturally affiliated group of such remains shall be notified and be given possession thereof; establishes the Native American burial site review committee to provide for notice and disposition of Native American remains; establishes criminal penalties for the violation of such provisions relating to the disturbance or failure to report the discovery of any such site, remains or objects; grants the attorney general and aggrieved parties a civil right of action for the violations of such provisions; requires inquiry by state agency preservation officers to determine whether any proposed project undertaken, funded or approved by a state agency will disturb burial grounds.

Letter of Support was sent by the Forum in efforts of passage to the "Unmarked Burial Protection Act"

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