State, tribes negotiating over burial site at road project
Aug 14, 2002
MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) - A burial site found in the middle of a proposed highway interchange is the subject of continuing talks between state and tribal officials.
Curt Neuhauser, a Department of Transportation project manager, declined to comment about the report that the site is near U.S. 12 in Dane County, saying the Indian tribes involved in the talks didn't want the location publicized.
"We are negotiating with them. That is all I can say at this time," Neuhauser said.
He also would not say if proposals to deal with the grave site would add to the cost of the nearly $100 million expansion, including a four-lane highway between Middleton and Sauk City.
The burial site reportedly was discovered nearly a year ago during the DOT's examination of an archaeological survey. It is thought to be a burial site of the Iowa Sac and Fox Nation, now headquartered in Oklahoma.
DOT officials have held two meetings with representatives of Wisconsin tribes and representatives of the Iowa Sac and Fox.
During a July 18 meeting, the DOT suggested several options, including building a bridge across the site or building a vault to protect the site. It was also suggested that the interchange be reconfigured so that the burial site would be in the median of an off-ramp.
Representatives of the Sac and Fox, the Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Potawatomi and Oneida were to take the options back to their tribal leaders for discussion.
Tribal representatives were not available Wednesday evening when The Associated Press tried to reach them to comment.
Brett Hulsey, a representative for the Iowa Sac and Fox tribe, said in an e-mail that tribal members didn't like any of the proposals and called the vault idea "horrid."
"All of the DOT's ideas are bad," Hulsey said. "They show disrespect for the importance of this site and now they (DOT) want the tribes to rush into making a decision. Our proposal is that they not build at all and go back and fix the highway to meet their safety needs."
Patrick Fernan, deputy director of District 1 for the Department of Transportation, said Wednesday that state officials were disappointed others had publicized the negotiations and revealed the location of the site.
State and tribal officials had agreed to keep the details confidential, and the state had kept it's promise not to disclose them, he said.
Need for road, burial ground, clash
For the moment, sacred area under state protection
Skeletal remains from an Indian burial ground were found in southern Wisconsin during excavation for a highway construction project.
The remains included "several teeth and what may be part of a poorly preserved pelvic bone, " according to minutes of a July meeting between the state Department of Transportation and American Indian tribal representatives.The records obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal show the remains were found one foot below the surface in a farm field west of Middleton.
The land was not owned by the DOT at the time of the discovery but has since been purchased as part of the expansion of U.S. Highway 12 into four lanes between Madison and Sauk City. About 4 acres of the 50-acre site will be affected by the highway project, according to the DOT.
The area is being protected from further agricultural use or construction for the moment. State officials and the tribes are discussing ways to preserve the burial grounds and continue with the highway project.
Several alternatives are being reviewed by tribes from Wisconsin and the Iowa Sac and Fox tribe of Oklahoma. The grounds are believed to be Iowa Sac and Fox, tribes which once lived in Dane County.
Among the proposals being considered:
Building a bridge over the site to protect the remains.nLeaving the remains and placing a gravel shoulder over a portion of the grounds.
The tribes oppose covering the site with gravel or payment, calling it disrespectful. DOT officials said shifting the roadway to a different location to protect the burial grounds is not an option. They refused to comment to the newspaper about the negotiations with the tribes.