MADISON — A bill moving through the Wisconsin Legislature would more clearly define protections for Indian burial mounds.
The bill would specify when the Wisconsin Historical Society can protect a burial site and how a landowner can challenge the protections, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The bill also proposes increasing the setback from burial locations from 5 feet to 10 feet.
The bill was prompted by another piece of legislation two years ago that would have made it easier for landowners to excavate and potentially develop Indian mounds.
The original bill made tribal leaders realize that many lawmakers didn’t know how sacred the mounds are, said Jon Greendeer of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
“A lot of the people that had signed on to the original legislation actually felt like mounds were just piles of dirt,” Greendeer said.
A lack of education and reluctance among Native Americans to talk about death has contributed to the lack of awareness, he said.
“It was just something that we don’t talk about,” Greendeer said. “It’s a very uncomfortable subject for a lot of the traditional folks because we do not talk about graves and bodies and burials.”
The new bill passed an Assembly voice vote in November and has a Senate committee hearing earlier this month.
Wingra Construction President Robert Shea was behind the older legislation that would’ve given developers more power to excavate burial mounds. He’s expressed opposition to the current bill and argues that the gives the state more power to seize land.