The effigy mounds found in Wisconsin are among the only earthen forms constructed by prehistoric American Indians. Wisconsin law has only recently protected these culturally significant features. These shapes often take forms of clan symbols, humans, or simple forms. These mounds were used for burial, ceremonial, or utilitarian purposes. The Ho-Chunk people are believed to be descendants of the Mound Builder people. The tribe views the mounds as sacred sites that should not be disturbed.
The Ho-Chunk people believe that the disturbance of these sites, for whatever reason, constitutes desecration. Under the proposed legislation, a burial site or effigy mound would be ravaged just to definitively prove that remains were present and if no remains were found, the effigy could be totally demolished. These structures must be preserved with respect and dignity.
Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau
This bill establishes a procedure for owners of burial sites that are currently cataloged by the director of the State Historical Society and owners of certain land contiguous to cataloged burial sites to challenge the existence of human remains in the burial site. Current law requires the director to identify and record in a catalog burial sites and, for land not platted for use as a cemetery, sufficient contiguous land necessary to protect burial sites from disturbance. Subject to certain exceptions, the disturbance of burial sites and cataloged land contiguous to burial sites is prohibited. Under the bill, the director must issue a permit for the investigation of a cataloged burial site to the owner of the burial site or to the owner of cataloged land contiguous to the burial site if the burial site was cataloged before the date the bill becomes law and the owner disputes the existence of human remains in the burial site and applies for a permit. An owner issued a permit under the bill may, at the owner’s own expense, investigate the site for evidence of human remains using investigational methods set forth in the bill. If the investigation finds no evidence of human remains in the burial site, the director is required to remove the burial site and contiguous land from the catalog. For land that is cataloged on or after the date on which the bill becomes law, the bill provides that no burial site on private property and no private land that is contiguous to a burial site may be cataloged unless the director establishes that human remains are present in the burial site based on investigational methods set forth in the bill.
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