Little Neck teen to restore Matinecock Indian burial site

The excavation of the Matinecock Indian burial site in Little Neck, which was relocated to a mass grave at the cemetery of the Zion Episcopal Church on Douglaston Parkway.
Courtesy of New York City archive
By Carlotta Mohamed

After learning about the history of the Matinecock Indian tribe and the sacred burial site in his hometown of Little Neck, 15-year-old Aidan Decker decided to restore and memorialize the grave site that has been in disrepair with overgrown trees and shrubs.

The restoration of the resting site near Zion Episcopal Church, located at 243-01 Northern Blvd. is a part of Aidan’s Eagle Scout Service Project, which he is working on to earn the title of Eagle Scout — the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America.

“I chose this project because of the fond memories I have going to this place,” said Aidan. “My grandparents would take me to the Zion Church for walks and we would collect acorns and pinecones. I was always impressed with the Matinecock Indian burial site, and I became even more interested after earning my Indian Lore merit badge.”

The Matinecock, who were the first inhabitants of Flushing and the surrounding area before the Dutch and English settled there in the 1640s and 1650s, continue to live on their ancestral land in Little Neck and other parts of Queens and Long Island.

In 1931, the city of New York decided to widen Northern Boulevard and relocated the burial ground of the Matinecock Indians to the Zion Church graveyard. For descendants of the Matinecock, the relocation was devastating.

“Not everyone was accounted for and artifacts that the Indians were buried with according to tradition were taken,” said Aidan.

According to Lee Decker, Aidan’s father, the path leading to the site is destroyed, trees and shrubs are overgrown, and the brass plaque was stolen sometime during the 1990s.

“We’re pulling out the old plantings and old path, putting in a new paving path with planting beds, flowers and trees,” said Decker. “We’re also making an aluminum plaque that’s going to look identical to the one that was stolen.”

Aidan has been to multiple sources, such as nurseries, various garden centers and mason suppliers to get soils, rocks, pavers, plants, trees, shrubs and flowers.

Aiden’s father said they had an extensive application to file prior to starting the project, which took months to do the authorization to go forward with the restoration plan.

According to Aidan, descendants of the Matinecock Tribe and the Zion Church vestry were extremely grateful and overjoyed about the project.

“I hope to draw attention from Little Neck-Douglaston and our surrounding communities to the Zion Church, and to the history of the native people/Matinecock Indians of our area,” said Aidan.

Donna Gentle Spirit Barron, a Matinecock/Montaukett Indian, who is a published author of five books about the life of her Matinecock ancestors of Little Neck, expressed her excitement for the rededication of the burial site and unveiling of the new plaque.

Barron lived in Flushing for 55 years and now resides in Little Neck, where there are only three original Native American families left.

“I am so overcome with emotions, and there are no words that I can use to express how thankful I am to Aidan and Lee Decker,” said Barron. “The whole ordeal with the removal of my family members remains’ and transfer to Zion has been an event I hold close to my heart.”

The community is invited to attend the unveiling of the restored burial site on Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Zion Episcopal Church located at 243-01 Northern Blvd. There will be a church mass at 10:30 a.m. followed by the unveiling at 11:30 a.m. with elected officials along with members of the Matinecock Indian tribe, and a luncheon afterwards.

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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