A bill that critics charge could lead to desecration of Native American burial mounds appears to be going nowhere — at least for now. Even as hundreds of tribal members rallied in frigid temperatures at the Capitol on Tuesday to oppose the controversial measure, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) was pulling the plug on the legislation.
“I certainly support the right of private property owners to make sure that they have an opportunity to utilize the land that they own,” Vos said. “But I also think that just because you own the land, that responsibility comes with it. So I have met with the Ho Chunk tribe, I have met with other Indian tribes, and I certainly respect and understand the frustration and the concern that they have, over potentially disturbing what they consider to be long-held burial sites. So I think it requires an awful lot more study, an awful lot more conversation, so I don’t intend to move the bill.”
But out on the Capitol steps, Representative Robb Kahl (D-Monona), was warning those attending the rally to remain vigilant. “Even if we are successful in pushing back this session, if they are still in power come 2017, they will push this bill again, I can assure you,” Kahl said.
The bill (AB-620), from state Representative Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) would allow property owners to challenge whether human remains are actually buried in a given mound. Brooks and the bill’s Senate author, Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), have cited property owners’ rights to use their land as they see fit, and overly restrictive oversight of mounds by the Wisconsin Historical Society, as motivation for the legislation.
“This is not about landowners’ fights” former Ho Chunk Nation chairman Jon Greendeer said during the rally. “This is not about correcting the burial site preservation law. This is about money, right? This is about the graves, both native and non-native alike, that stand in the way of them making more of it.”
The current law, which allows the state to protect recognized effigy mounds, has been challenged by Wingra Stone. The Madson-area company has successfully challenged the legal protections of a mound which sits on property Winga owns near McFarland in Dane County, but the Historical Society and the Ho-Chunk Nation have appealed the court ruling.