Building and Indian Burial Grounds

Written By: Jaspers, Moriarty & Walburg, P.A. | Published On: 4th December 2011

In this week’s Shakopee Valley News, writer Shannon Fiecke reports that a downed power line in Memorial Park is proving difficult to repair due to concerns over disturbing a potential Indian burial site. Minnesota law provides that special procedures must be followed to prevent disturbing burial sites, and that failure to follow those procedures can be a felony or gross misdemeanor. One aspect of these protective measures is to have the land inspected by the Office of the Minnesota State Archaeologist. These scientists will carefully evaluate any site to determine if it contains human remains, and if so, whether those remains are from Native American Indians. These procedures promote the general policy of according respect and dignity to human remains.

What does this law mean to the general public? Basically, licensed archaeologist will need to come to the location noted as a potential burial site and investigate whether or not it is in fact a undocumented burial ground. They will then document their findings and work with the Indian Affairs Council if there are remains from any Native American Indians. If it is in fact a burial ground, the law will prohibit disturbing the burial ground, although relocation is sometimes permitted.

As a homeowner, this law may also affect you if you live on or near the site of pioneer settlements, or Indian settlements of antiquity. It is sometimes difficult to know if you live in such an area, but a first place to check would be any survey or plat of your property, which will be required to document any known burial sties. Attorneys at JMW can locate and research these types of documents if you are interested in learning more. Further, in the building permit application process, this type of research may be required. If the background information known at the time you start a building project shows no burial sites in the vicinity, such sites may be uncovered when the digging starts. If you have begun digging or making an improvement and find bones, you may have discovered an undocumented burial ground. At that time it would be critically important to stop further work to ensure you comply with the law. You may need to speak to a real estate attorney at Jaspers Moriarty & Walburg to navigate the next steps, including working with Office of the Minnesota State Archaeologist, Indian Affairs Council, any Native American Indian tribe which may be involved, the county, and other state agencies.

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