Indianz.Com > News > ‘A pattern of disrespect’: Seneca Nation condemns veto of burial protection bill
Seneca Nation
A welcome sign on the Seneca Nation. Photo: Ken Lund
‘A pattern of disrespect’
Seneca Nation condemns veto of burial protection bill
Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Leaders of the Seneca Nation are speaking out after the governor of New York vetoed a bill that would have protected burial grounds across the state.

At the Seneca Nation Council’s first meeting of 2023, the tribe’s legislative body said the veto by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) leaves New York as one of the few places where unmarked burial sites remain unprotected. A tribal resolution approved on January 14 cites the need for the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act, which had received unanimous support from state lawmakers.

“The importance of the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act to Native people cannot be overstated, and its rejection by the Governor was an affront to Native Nations, our people and our ancestors,” Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. said in a news release on Wednesday.

“The Seneca people have lived, raised our families and been laid to rest in our ancestral lands from time immemorial. Because of our forced relocation from our expansive ancestral lands to our present-day territories over hundreds of years, the final resting places of all of our ancestors is likely unknowable,” Armstrong said. “The Act would have finally given Native communities a true voice in honoring our moral and ethical obligation to protect those most sacred sites from destruction and desecration.”

‘A pattern of disrespect’: Seneca Nation condemns veto of burial protection bill

Hochul vetoed Senate Bill S5701 on December 30, 2022, in one of her final actions of the year. A message from the governor’s office claims the discovery of human remains is a “rare occasion” and that the legislation failed to address the interests of private property owners.

“I recognize the need for a process to address the handling of unearthed human remains in a way that is respectful to lineal descendants or culturally-affiliated groups,” Hochul said on her one-page veto message. However, any process addressing the handling of unearthed human remains that also involves the private property of New Yorkers must appropriately protect both interests.”

But in passing the resolution, Seneca Nation lawmakers said Hochul’s veto represents an ongoing “pattern of disrespect” towards tribal nations and their people. Armstrong echoed the message in the news release on Wednesday.

“The continued blatant disregard for Native issues and priorities coming from New York’s Executive Chamber is disturbing,” Armstrong said. “For more than two centuries, our governments, our people and our priorities have been greeted with a deafening silence and contempt from New York governors. We see little hope for change based on recent actions.”

Senate Bill S5701, the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act, was introduced by State Sen. Leroy Comrie, a Democrat. The co-sponsors of the bill were also Democrats, the same party as the governor.

The measure passed both the New York Senate and the Assembly by unanimous votes. Prior versions of the bill had been introduced as far back as 2009.

“The Legislature acted to protect our sacred sites and to extend to Native Nations the dignity and respect we deserve. Every vote cast was in support of the bill. All that was needed was the Governor’s signature,” Armstrong said.

“Instead, New York decided to remain on the sidelines, allowing property and development interests to maintain their priority position over people. The Governor’s decision demonstrates an utter disregard for the fundamental rights of Native Nations, Native people and all New Yorkers,” Armstrong continued.

Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) enters the Assembly Chamber at the State Capitol in Albany, New York, to deliver the State of the State on January 10, 2023. Photo: Mike Groll / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

This month, Hochul began her first full term in office as governor, having won election in November 2022 as the first woman to serve in the state’s highest executive office. She rose to the position in August 2021, following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo due to allegations of sexual harassment.

Hochul delivered her first State of the State address last Tuesday. She did not discuss her veto of the Unmarked Burial Site Protection Act. She did not mention the tribal nations whose homelands are located throughout the state either.

In addition to the Seneca Nation, New York is home to the Cayuga Nation, the Oneida Nation, the Onondaga Nation, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, the Shinnecock Nation, the Tonawanda Band of Seneca, the Tuscarora Nation and the Unkechaug Nation, the latter of which is recognized solely by the state government.

“The Seneca Nation, like all Native Nations within New York, has many issues specific to our people and our lands that we aim to address with the state in the coming year,” President Armstrong said in response to Hochul’s address on January 10.

“Some of those issues have wide-reaching impacts far beyond our territories. But, there are issues that affect all Native people and communities – from the shores of Lake Erie to the shores of Long Island,” Armstrong said in a statement. “We hope, that as 2023 continues, those issues are not met with the same silence that echoed from the Capitol today.”