Native American burial grounds may lie on property
By Emily Bialkowski
The frac sand mining debate that has occupied the Houston County Board took a new turn Tuesday, June 26 when tribal representatives and attorneys requested attention be given to the possibility that native burial grounds and/or mounds might be located on the property.
John Borman, general counsel for Winona Dakota Unity Alliance, asked the board to take steps to prevent what often times can be a very difficult and emotional issue should something be found while mining.
Borman asked the board to recommend the landowners – Tracie and Michelle Erickson – let Ho Chunk and Dakota representatives walk the land to determine if a burial site might exist.
“It is an absolute felony to disturb any kind of burial ground, and the county attorney would have to charge the case. The purpose is to prevent that kind of thing from happening in the first place,” Borman said.
The county has no authority to open the property for inspection but can recommend that it take place. The board unanimously agreed to draft a letter to the property owners suggesting they allow such a visit.
The idea was further supported by William Quackenbush, tribal historic preservation officer for the Ho Chunk Nation. “We’ve never been formally notified, and my main concern is that the land owner or mining company fulfill their obligation,” Quackenbush said.
Connie Arzigian, an archeologist from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, agreed an inspection take place. “I looked at records of this area, and there is a high probability of mound sites. Within a two-mile area in your region 40 mounds have been excavated and have had human remains. This location is the classic setting: high property overlooking a river.
“The only reason I think we haven’t had anything documented yet is because it hasn’t been looked at. Down the road, if you find human remains, it will stop the project. Disturbing the burial grounds is sacrilegious.”
Minnesota state statutes give protection to Native American burial grounds. If it is determined there is a burial site on the property authority shifts to state archeologists and Minnesota Indian Affairs Counsel for recording. The landowner does, however, retain his rights and privacy, and mining can continue with a buffer zone created around the archeological and spiritually significant section. This has occurred in new housing developments, for example.
“I’m here to ask you to encourage the landowners to let Dakota and Ho Chunk people go onto this land,” Borman said.
Borman further suggested the county zoning department look into adopting an ordinance or resolution that specifically addresses this issue should the topic come back in the future. Winona County currently has such legislation, Borman said.
Rick Frick of Minnesota Sand said he has walked the property. “I never seen no mounds. I never seen no nothing. This is a last ditch effort to stop it.” Frick said.
Quackenbush applauded the effort and described it as “good faith,” but pressed that trained eyes be allowed to view the land.
“My opinion is I would like to see any business that wants to start in Houston be as transparent and open as can be,” Commissioner Jack Miller added.
The board was warned that additional tribal officials will contact the county. “They will be making the same request to head off problems in the future,” Borman said. “My goal is to cooperate from the beginning.”
In conclusion, the board agreed to schedule a public hearing to discuss the mine’s conditional use permit and whether the landowners have violated any of its terms.
The property in question lies off Highway 16 near the border of Houston and Fillmore Counties. The permit was approved in 1992 before industrial frac sand mining was considered. The debate is centered on whether the permit is applicable today.
The meeting is preliminarily set for 6 p.m. on Monday, July 16 at the justice center.