Wisconsin tribes speak in favor of Assembly Bill 118

By Tim Wohlers

Tribal representatives from around the state testified at a public hearing in Madison this month, to express their support for Assembly Bill 118 (AB 118). 
The measure would afford greater protection to burial sites in Wisconsin. 
“We feel that AB 118 takes an important step towards ensuring that tribal remains are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” stated Chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi Harold Frank.  “We would (therefore) like to express our support in this bill.” 
Tribes such as the Forest County Potawatomi entered the discussion roughly two years ago, when Republicans introduced a bill that would have weakened protection of effigy mounds. 
The failed proposal was Assembly Bill 620 (AB 620). 
“The very sanctity of these sacred resting places was threatened by Assembly Bill 620,” said Ho-Chunk Nation Executive Director of Heritage Preservation Jon Greendeer.  “But it was not without purpose.” 
Following the failure of AB 620, Wisconsin legislators formed a study committee to consider statute changes that might provide a better balance between the various stakeholders. 
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) chaired the committee. 
“The Study Committee was tasked with reviewing Wisconsin’s current burial sites preservation law,” Loudenbeck said, “to determine whether it adequately balances the interests of (all parties).” 
Coming out of that study committee was AB 118.  It has suggested several changes to the current law – such as an increase in the amount of land surrounding a burial site that cannot be disturbed. 
Many tribes have backed the proposal. 
“I am writing to express our support of Assembly Bill 118,” stated President of the Stockbridge-Munsee Shannon Holsey.  “We thank the Committee for their consideration (of) this most significant matter.” 
The bill has already passed the Assembly, and is now in the hands of state senators.  The Committee on Natural Resources and Energy held a public hearing for it earlier this month. 
That hearing took place on Jan. 4, at the capitol. 
“I support AB 118,” congressional candidate Mary Jo Walters stated in a one-page testimony, “and hope that the public hearing today shows more of why the bill will help the mounds throughout Wisconsin.” 
The bill would pass through the committee by a 5-0 vote.  Members said the Senate would likely be considering the measure in February or March.