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Missi Kesukut

At Great Sky

Table of Contents
Introduction
History
Translation

Introduction

Missi Kesukut is a sacred site that was first preserved in 1991. In 2006, a skull was found in the area, identifying the area as a cemetery and at one time an Indian village. This discovery led to several years of local indigenous groups to dispute whether the area should be developed or remain as it is.

Today, Missi Kesukut is protected by the town district who allocated Community Preservation Funds to purchase the land from the private land owner for it’s preservation.

History

1991

Article from Tribe Sets Rules for Dig at Site. Southampton Press, 1991;

The Shinnecock Indian Tribe wants a role in an elaborate archaeological dig that a developer has been ordered to undertake in Water Mill. The tribe has told the Town Planning Board it may be forced to call in a medicine man for the dig if any remains are discovered.

Planning board members had been expected to grant final approval to a proposed 10-acre subdivision in Water Mill last week on the condition that the project’s developers – Thomas James and Lorraine Klugh – spend in excess of $100,000 to hire archaeologists to remove sensitive Indian artifacts discovered there during preliminary studies. The four-lot project on the south side of Montauk Highway includes the old Hotel James.

The planners on Thursday, April 25th were forced to adjourn the matter for two weeks after receiving a two-page letter from the Shinnecock Nation Archaeological Advisory Committee setting out a series of six conditions for the detailed “Stage 3” archaeological dig – the first that has ever been ordered by the Planning Board.

The letter, which is dated April 19 and signed by David Bunn Martine, says that at least three Shinnecock people who have been approved by the Archaeological Advisory Committee must be present “at all times during the excavations, participating as trainees in the excavation process.” It calls for restricting access to the site and says that any photography or videotaping that’s not required by the archaeologists doing the work or authorized by the Shinnecocks must be prohibited.

Special measures are also called for in the event any human remains are found on the property, which was once used as an Indian Village.

The committee said that if human remains are discovered during the dig, the excavation must be immediately halted, and the remains temporarily reburied until “a medicine person can be present to officiate at removal and permanent reburial at a site known only to the Shinnecocks.

“Shinnecock Archaeological Advisory Committee will contact a shaman or medicine person and minister to oversee reburial,” the letter continues. “Travel expenses and accommodation for medicine person will be funded as part of the excavation process.”

Planning Board Chairman Roy L. Wines Jr., who discussed the matter at the board’s afternoon meeting, said the town welcomes the tribe’s input in the matter and is willing to incorporate their demands into the subdivision approval. He said members of the tribe presented the letter to him at a meeting in Town Hall last Friday, April 19 when a number of issues were discussed including the James and Klugh project and efforts to preserve a Shinnecock tribal fort and ceremonial site in Shinnecock Hills.

Mr. Wines said the board was postponing its decisions on the Water Mill subdivision for two weeks, until May 9, to give the property owners an opportunity to review the tribe’s letter and consider its impact on the planned dig.

The Planning Board chairman said the tribe’s demand to have three trainees present during the entire dig “may look like an obstacle” at first glance. But after talking to members of the tribe, he said he realized that “the tribe doesn’t intend it that way,” and that “it’s meant as a learning experience” for the tribe.

Planning Department Director Thomas Thorsen said that the town does not expect to find any human remains on the Water Mill property. Nevertheless, the town is “pleased to see” the tribe offering to handle the remains and provide a place for their burial, he said.

The Shinnecock Archaeological Advisory Committee also stipulated that all objects recovered at the site must be professionally cataloged and studied by the consulting archaeologists on the project, Clover Archaeological Services of Huntington, and temporarily kept by Clover with access to committee members.

The committee said artifacts recovered at the property will ultimately become part of a permanent collection in a proposed museum and cultural center for the tribe. The artifacts ill be made available to the general public for study, according to the group. 1

2006

Article from Decade-old restriction yielded skull find. Newsday, 2006;

An American Indian skull discovered in Water Mill, on land the Shinnecock tribe believes was the site of an ancient village, was only found because of a restriction imposed when the land owners first applied for a subdivision more than a decade earlier, town officials said Friday.

The skull was found Wednesday by archaeologist Jo-Ann McLean, who had been examining the property for ancient tools, arrowheads or other tribal artifacts, which could be

img_57476b8845b1d Missi Kesukut Jeremy Dennis On This Site

From the Newsday article clipping.

anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 years old.

The reason she was doing the work goes back to 1992 when Thomas James and Lorraine Klugh first tried to turn their property into four separate residential building lots.

Southampton Town officials had insisted that before the subdivision was approved, the owners perform a full archaeological study on parts of three of the lots, and give any artifacts recovered to the Shinnecock Indian Nation, which at the time was planning to build a museum and cultural center on their reservation in Shinnecock Hills.

But until Wednesday, no remains had been found during periodic surveys on the site.

“This means that our ancestors are showing themselves to us…and we have to pay attention to the Eartha nd what lies beneath it,” said Rebecca Genia, a member of the Intertribal Historic Preservation Task Force, which was formed after the remains of several Native Americans were found at a construction site on Shelter Island. “We have to stop this steamroller monster that tears up the land for someone’s profit and leaves nothing for the children. Not even a cemetery is sacred.”

It is unclear what effect the discovery of the skull will have on the proposed construction of a house on the lot south of Montauk Highway, and no final determination has been made about burying any bones found on the land. The skull will be turned over to the tribe for further reburial.

Southampton Town Councilwoman Linda Kabot said the town had, years ago, expressed some interest in preserving the land, but that it was not a high priority. She said the recent discovery could lead to a renewed effort to buy the property, but added that town law says it can be acquired only from a willing seller and that the price must be fair-market value, based on an independent appraisal.

Kabot noted that one reason the town was reluctant to purchase the property a decade ago was because local officials believed their archaeological review would protect any cultural resources on it. “The question is, if it’s still so sensitive, what does the town need to do?” She said that, for the most part, Southampton town can only follow state regulation. “We’re the middlemen,” she said. 2


Article from Town Makes Plan to Purchase Sacred Burial Grounds with CPF Funds. Hamtpons.com Article, 2006;

Water Mill – The past and the present converge as representatives of the Shinnecock Nation met with town officials this week to discuss the

img_57478b6d1dce7 Missi Kesukut Jeremy Dennis On This Site

Becky Genia at the Water Mill Site, 2006. Photo by Beverly Jensen

purchase of a sacred burial ground located south of the highway in Water Mill where “earthly remains ,” including a 1,000-year-old skull were found on the site which was once slated for subdivision.

The town expressed intentions to purchase the long recognized archaeologically significant lots to safeguard the burial grounds with resources from its Community Preservation Fund (CPF). Introduced by CPF Attorney Mary Wilson , who oversees acquisitions for the town, the proposal was the subject of a public hearing held Tuesday afternoon .

The nine-acre property is comprised of three separate parcels located at 1361 Montauk Highway in Water Mill and is owned by real estate developer John Konner. A resident of Southampton, Konner has set a $5 million purchase price on the property.

The hearing , a standard component of the acquisition process , was extraordinary in regard to historic context as representatives from the Shinnecock Nation appeared before the board to support the purchase, which from their perspective was more of a give back than a land buy.

“Life in Southampton did not begin in 1640,” Rebecca Genia commented as she addressed the board advocating the purchase Concurring with that sentiment, Lisa Votino-Tarrant commented, “My husband’s ancestors were here long before your arrival. We know that we can’t go back in time and we know that we can’t stop development, but we urge you to purchase this land. These graves are sacred.”

Nothing that preservation doesn’t come cheap, Votino-Tarrant said she urged the board to create “good Kharma” by moving forward with the purchase in which “one acre of land is worth $1 million.”

It was the pervasive trend toward corralling development and preserving open space that inadvertently led to the unearthing of the ancient remains in 2006. The site, according to historian John Strong, who also appeared at the hearing to support the purchase, has been known as a significant Indian Burial Ground since the 1970s.

“This parcel has all the elements of a classic Indian burial site,” Strong said as he pointed to the aerial photographs of the site tacked to the wall. The property was targeted by the town as an archaeologically significant site more than 10 years ago – long before the prospect of subdividing the parcel came into town review.

According to Konner, who purchased the property from a previous owner in 1998, the parcel went through phase one of the archaeological review process based on the site’s suspected importance. When significant artifacts were found during the initial phase, the applicants were compelled by town regulations to move forward with phase two of the site excavation which resulted in yet even more significant findings on the site, compelling archaeologists and town officials to move forward with phase three of the site examination process.

img_57478c8c9c0ef Missi Kesukut Jeremy Dennis On This Site

The “earthly remains” wrapped for transport to the county medical examiner’s office. Photo by Beverly Jensen

Following the unearthing of remains on the site in November 2006 identified by medical examiners as dating over 1,000 years old, skilled workers proceeded on to phase three.

It was a day to remember as site excavators unearthed the most significant portion of the remains to date, namely that of a skull, according to Archaeologist Jo-Ann McClean who was supervising the excavation when the find was made.

“McClean called me right away at my office,” Konner recalled as he described the torrent of media attention that resulted. Representatives of the Shinnecock Nation were notified along with police, homicide and Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) personnel – all of whom converged on the scene.

The Coroner’s Office once satisfied that there was no foul play involved, proceeded to date the skull, surmising it was 1,000 years old. Related remains were left at the burial site undisturbed. Preserved in its natural state and kept in safe keeping at the Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton, the significant skeletal feature will be returned to its original resting place under the town’s direction.

In addition to alerting the press, representatives of the Shinnecock Nation also called their lawyer, well-known local attorney George Stankevich, to conduct the heavily attended press conference on Konner’s front lawn, fielding questions from local, national and international news media.

img_57478eedcc642 Missi Kesukut Jeremy Dennis On This Site

Property owner John Konner, of Konner Development, is willing to move forward with plans to sell the nine-acre site, where the now well documented Indian Burial Ground is located, to the town. Photo by Andrea Aurichio

In addition, members of the Shinnecock tribe “spent the night there after the find. They had a ceremony. That was fine with me,” Konner said.

“Mr. Konner is an applaudable person,” Rubin Valdez, of the Shinnecock Nation, commented Tuesday. The Nation’s respect for Konner was also highlighted by Dave Martin, the director of the Shinnecock Nation’s Cultural Museum who also favors the land acquisition. “The town has a willing seller in Mr. Konner,” Valdez commented. “If the town buys this land it is a gift back to ourselves. It would be quite a feather in the cap of the town.”

Anthony “Tony” Ernst of Southampton also supported the proposed purchase presenting a letter signed by other local residents who also backed the planned CPF acquisition.

“We would not bulldoze our ancestors’ graves,” Ernst said as he noted the need for preservation and respect for Southampton’s history and heritage.

McClean, the archaeologist who found the skull portion of the remains, encouraged the town to continue with efforts to excavate the site. “Some of the finds are at Stony Brook,” McClean said, and others are with a New York City-based archaeological firm. “I am not looking for work myself,” McClean said, “but this is a rich field that should be explored. We can learn from this.”

Stankevitch advocated the creation of a more systematic way of handling archaeologically significant finds on constructions sites that would not necessarily halt or deter developments. “You need a policy,” Stankevitch suggested, “Every time someone finds remains on a site it’s like a Chinese fire drill. No one knows what to do.”

And then, things came full circle as attention was directed back to the earth and Native Americans’ relationship to their environment, nature, and the sacred earth.

“I can speak because I am an elder,” the diminutive and astonishing youthful Mary Smith Thunderbird Hale said with the great dignity befitting an elder. “Our concern is for our ancestors. We have no traditional ceremonies for reburial because when we buried our people they stayed buried.

“You didn’t plant in the hills,” Hale explained, “the animals roamed there. You buried your people in the hills, so they could face the ocean. We want our ancestors to remain undisturbed.”

Hale will serve as the official liaison between the Shinnecock Nation and the Southampton Town Board as the archaeologically sensitive program moves forward. The matter, now tabled, will be rescheduled for a vote at an upcoming town board meeting. The public hearing was closed a 10-day written comment period will follow. 3

  1. Love, D. P. (1991, May 2). Tribe Sets Rules for Dig at Site. Southampton Press.
  2. Freedman, M (2006, December 2). Decade-old restriction yielded skull find. Newsday.
  3. Aurichio, A (2006). Town Makes Plan To Purchase Sacred Burial Grounds With CPF Funds. Hamptons.com Article 

Translation

Missi Kesukut translates to ‘at great sky,’ referring to ‘great sky‘ as an individual rather than the sky above us. Oral story describes great sky as spirit who guards this protected region of land.

Missi, mishe, misheu, missiyeu, (it is) great.1

From Ezek. 17, 3; 1. Chr. 16, 25; pl. Missiyeauash kut-onkquatunkanash – your rewards are great.

From Matt. 5, 12; nano missi, it is more and more great, ‘it increaseth’

Ps. 74, 23; Job 10, 16; suppos. mohsag, when it is great, a great thing

Ex. 15, 7; Deut. 4, 32; Matt. 23, 17, 19; aneu mohsag, (that which is) more great, the greatest

Mat. 22, 36. [Narragansett mishe, missi. Abanaki: mese; nemeseghik8i’t8n, je le fais plus grand. Cree: missow, it is large. Chippewa: mitcha, it is big, large. Deleware: m’cheu, big, large (it is), Zeisb.]

Kesuk, sky – the visible heavens, the sky.2

In the local Algonquian dialect, ‘-ut‘ is attached to words to create the locative at, on, or in.

  1. James Hammond, Natick Dictionary 1903, pp. 59
  2. James Hammond, Natick Dictionary 1903, pp. 323

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