The Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act is back on the New York State legislative agenda in 2023.
Advocates for the measure are urging readers to contact their state legislators to act swiftly to pass the New York State Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act (2023-S630) and send it to the Governor before the legislative session ends in June.
The measure would enact “the ‘unmarked burial site protection act’ which requires the cessation of all ground disturbing activities upon the discovery of a burial ground, human remains or 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.”
With this legislation, New York will join the forty-seven other states in protecting all human burials from unmitigated disturbance or destruction.
You can read an Action Alert from Preservation Long Island to learn more about the issue and for information on how to contact your NYS representative.
Paul Huey says
Any law that restricts private use of private property with private funding is unconstitutional. The only legal restriction on use of private property can occur when a property owner or developer uses public funding for a project. It is presently illegal for a developer to use public funds or permits for a project that destroys a historical or archaeological resource without following certain procedures. A private person using his/her private funds can do whatever they want on private lands as long as they do not endanger the public.
John Warren says
Paul, I’m surprised to hear you make this argument. There are plenty of laws that restrict the private use of private property. For example, zoning laws such as those that protect wetlands and shorelines. If a law can be passed that keeps one from destroying a wetland on their own property, surely one can be passed that keeps one from destroying a culturally significant cemetery.
Paul Huey says
Actually there is already a State law, passed and signed, that protects Indian burial grounds: NY Indian L § 12-A (2014). It has never been enforced or tested in court, probably because it is clearly unconstitutional. In 60 years of New York State archaeology, to my great regret I have seen many important sites on private land destroyed because there was no legal way to stop the destruction.