Courtesy Ho-Chunk Nation
A bright spirit overcame subzero temperatures at the rally to protect the mounds in Madison, Wisconsin January 12.

Desecration Row: Wisconsin Bill Threatens All Native Burial Mound Sites

Pam Hughes

A new conflict between Native Americans in Wisconsin and state Republicans has emphasized the friction between the two groups since Republicans recaptured control of the state legislature under the tenure of Gov. Scott Walker. In the latest fracas, the Ho-Chunk and other Native tribes in Wisconsin are lobbying against Assembly Bill 620, which aims to rollback current state law protections for Native American burial mound sites. This bill follows a pattern under Walker, who signed iron ore mining law changes in 2013 that threatened the traditional territory of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. That same year Walker also signed a rollback of the progressive Indian mascot bill that former governor Tommy Thompson had signed.

State Republicans have exposed an extreme level of ignorance in crafting AB 620, which would require desecration of burial mounds and other graves in order to verify their categorization by finding human remains. Only then would the sites receive state law protection as burials.

This image, from a video produced by Sherri Jones, shows the rally held to protect the mounds on January 12 at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. (Courtesy YouTube/Sherri Jones)

In contrast, Wisconsin tribes, especially the Ho-Chunk, acknowledge that the ancestral burial mounds here were designed through a supreme intelligence of a culture popularly known as the Mound Builders. The Ho-Chunk, descendants of the Mound Builders, consider any disturbance of ancestral burial mounds an affront to their way of life and a threat to knowledge that future generations will need to ensure the health of the planet.

RELATED: Desecration of Graves Sanctioned by Wisconsin Assembly Bill

Although Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced AB 620 would likely not move this spring, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Ho-Chunk Nation is preparing for a fight.

“We slowed down the legislation but if there is anything we have learned in speaking with a lot of the legislature, education seems to be a key. People lack basic information, and there is misinformation, so we have to continue our educating and advocating and get stronger legislation into place,” said Henning Garvin, Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Representative. Garvin represents the district where Wingra Stone wants to tear into two currently state-protected effigy mounds in one of their quarries.

Ho-Chunk District Representatives Henning Garvin, Andrea Estebo and David Greendeer at the rally to protect the mounds on January 12. (Courtesy Ho-Chunk Nation)

That education began in full force when Native America Calling interviewed David Greendeer, District 2 Representative for the Ho-Chunk Nation, on January 21. He spoke about the difficulty in sharing unwritten tribal knowledge and talking about the topic of death in order to inform legislators and other members of the public. To do so, he has had to consult very carefully with Ho-Chunk Elders and attorneys.

Greendeer is the third generation of his family to take up protecting the mounds. He traveled with his grandfather to many sites, including those in Iowa and Missouri, and attended his first large gatherings of Elders and historians at the age of 8. So when he delivered a poem to hundreds of marchers at the Ho-Chunk rally to protect the mounds in the state capitol of Madison, the passion that flowed in the subzero weather on January 12 was a culmination of this generational responsibility.

“Some of these mounds are not ours, they were put here,” he told Native America Calling. “I don’t have to reiterate anything at this point in terms of the bill. If these things are destroyed, we are going to lose our connection to our traditional ecological knowledge. We have an opportunity to teach the world about how significant these places are.”

Greendeer shared that the mounds show aspects of quantum physics and mechanics, and of astrological alignments that indicate a language that has been lost. “We can’t comprehend the loss,” he said.

Greendeer’s grandfather was instrumental in passing Wisconsin’s burial mound protection law in 1986, which Republicans now seek to gut. Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma) withdrew her sponsorship of the bill January 6. Greendeer said this was a result of her learning the issues. The remaining state bill co-authors Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) have neither cooperated fully with the press nor demonstrated any in-depth knowledge in their public comments, however, and both declined to be guests on Native America Calling. Rep. Czaja also did not respond to Indian Country Today Media Network’s request for an interview. Also interviewed was Boye Ladd (Ho-Chunk/Zuni), a champion pow-wow dancer, storyteller and traditionalist, who teaches dance, traditions and Native culture to numerous groups from young children to politicians, and Native to non-Native. He pointed out the spirit of cooperation that existed in Wisconsin in the 1970s between tribes and state government agencies. He also reiterated Greendeer’s statements about the Ho-Chunk unwritten history being holy. He did point out, however, the need for preserving the knowledge of past cultures for future generations, using the example of climate change. He noted the disparities in temperatures between the extreme cold in the Southwest and the unusually temperate December weather at the North Pole show that climate change is real. Future generations will need the advanced knowledge of the past to face these types of problems.

Ho-Chunk Nation Traditional Chief Clayton Winneshiek dancing as a drum group passes at the rally to protect the mounds on January 12. (Courtesy Ho-Chunk Nation)

The January 12 rally for the Ho-Chunk was a kick-off to another round of educating and connecting and may have drummed up some sensitivity in other parts of the Midwest. The Columbus Dispatch is now reporting that Ohio’s laws lack protection of burial sites from “scavengers.” Two men sentenced under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act for trafficking 4,000-year-old human remains are expected to receive just three years probation. They dug up the skeletons of two women and six children. Ohio does not protect abandoned cemeteries or those on private land, or unmarked burials older than 125 years.

Indiana law provides heavy fines and felony charges for some acts, and protects Native American burial sites dating before December 31, 1870, the Dispatch reports. This law emanated from public outrage over a looting of hundreds of graves on the GE Mound. The corporation knowingly used dirt from the mound as landfill for a new reception center. Analysis showed the mound was one of the most important Hopewell sites ever discovered.

Louisiana’s Poverty Point was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. Its earthworks were built 3,100 to 3,700 years ago, according to the National Park Service.

Effigy mounds proliferate in the state of Wisconsin. They represent animals and spirits, including water spirits. Mounds represent air, earth and water animals. They are a part of life in the state, where proper respect has been paid to them for over 30 years.

“Sometimes we get tied up and we only look at our own tribes,” said Greendeer. “I think the thing that has made us happy is that we are uniting. We have reached out to all the agencies and the majority have stepped forth to help us.”

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I don't suppose we would garner any empathy by digging up White graveyards under the pretense that we're looking for oil? I also seriously doubt that most White people would get the point, nor would they make the connection between their anger and ours at such a desecration.

WinterWindTeacher's picture
Submitted by WinterWindTeacher on
It is well that there is a uniting for such a serious matter. There has been a lot of focus on ancient historical sites and art in the Middle East but missing is the same opposite destructive forces at work on ancient and culturally important sites within North America. Evolution is cooperation, but there has been too much reality of cooperation for destruction which is against life, a falsity which is a reality of 'global warning', the earth and her diversity of life have been dying. This anti life matter non-human being is unsustainable and an affront to life. It is a critical time as so much of life has been torn from the earth from the imbalance and pulling away of vital important relationships. It has to be a difficult job for the many tribal nations to do all this educating but it is an excellent and necessary work to save the earth and all her life from imminent destruction. The earth needs healing and respect and an investment in protecting her life and well being. With such succor and vigor they have pulled at her very being without understanding the complexity of all this life and it's inter-relatedness connected by molecules like hydrogen and oxygen in forming water, that is what has brought on this catastrophe. If they had any ability to read sacred law and accept it then they might ask what they are doing and see that it will not sustain their life, and change direction back toward life and be reunified to it. Betrayal is a hard lesson, cruel to self and others, cheating of life of a true self is not very brilliant, to admit ignorance and cease the building of destruction is a redemption. It is great work from the passionate and dedicated generations that bring a message of understanding and respect, it is vitally necessary. Life is true and true life is protected by life and the earth. The wars are obscene, there is no winning. Evolution is diversity, adaptation, immunity. A violence against this necessary path of all life is falsity. No species on this earth was ever so violent to all life and the earth for its destruction. The true life must be protected against false. No war is winnable, the destruction is a toll, human being needed to learn the arts of communication and love to keep from falling from grace into an abyss. May love and truth circle the planet - there is no time to waste contemplating or hesitating. The hate can not be annihilated into obliteration and these weapons of mass destruction must come down and be destroyed for safety sake. No life can be safe with instruments of mass destruction - United States, Russia, Israel and others hiding these nuclear nightmares and energy plans and plants must stop this game and charade - they have dealt life out on a table like Gin Rummy, life is not a game, it is real. Do as you like with one another at your card table but the life of the planet and her people are not to be bought and sold and bound as chess pieces, we are not pawns to lies, or chained to fools, but proof of true life, set us free. Take down your stakes of gambling humanity out of living, that is criminally insane. What has been destroyed has taken millions of years to create. There is full employment throughout every nation and a bursting economy of putting this garden back into her beautiful state of grace - that is a fact. This is true economic growth; where life abundant grow because it is loved and cared for then it is true. The market must reflect the truth - where there is destruction then the currency also must fall into ruin along with the state of ignorance that pounds down eternal light, their day is night. The children of the earth will arise to morning sun light and say good morning to the blessed day of birth, it is sacred, holy and divine for all living being. We know full well what we do not like, we waste time and energy at this empty well, or worse yet fill it up with hate. Too many wells of hate overflow and cause this drunkenness to spill everywhere. We are better to know what we love so our minds can be inspired by the passion of our souls to save this earth and her life. A mid-wife must know what she is doing and be prepared for the birth of the child, she can not waste time in confusion and abandon mother in labor while wandering for what she forgot. Complications require our immediate action or the baby and mother might die, then a mid-wife we were not but an idiot by any trade to let life die. Remember heart beat, listen for it, it is our mother that tells us we are not lost. Heart beat is the sound of home, the happy sound that told us we are safe. Heart beat is the song from where we live and where we are born. Heart beat is the ebb and flow of all that knows how to grow, from a drop in the mountain air to the mighty river that meet the mighty ocean and back up into the clouds to a drop again forever and forever the unbroken truth lives. Eternal life is the promise written so many thousands in ancient knowing and that truth has kept us to heart beat and sacred flow ever since. Earth is not bored with life and neither am I, it's magnificence is larger than many lifetimes, let us go let it flow. I have not finished living for where I am to go is to know life. There is so much more endless living, divinity in every part that is the sacred whole.