The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has been added to the Registry of Interested Persons for the burial site along the Nemadji River where the Band’s ancestors were moved to mass graves after exhumation from Wisconsin Point.
The Wisconsin Burial Sites Preservation Board approved the application Friday, Sept. 17.
“The Band has been trying to get the cemetery into our name for quite a while,” said Kevin DuPuis, Fond du Lac chairman, who also requested a letter of support to put the land in trust in Fond du Lac's name.
Councilor Jenny Van Sickle launched the effort to return the burial sites on Wisconsin Point and adjacent to the Nemadji River in trust for the Fond du Lac Band. In July, the city council directed the city administration to work toward that goal.
"I'm very much in support of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and this application," said David Grignon, preservation board member. "Bringing our ancestors home, that's quite an experience. There's nothing like it."
Grignon made the motion to approve the application to add the Fond du Lac Band to the Registry of Interested Persons, which garnered unanimous support.
Then the panel discussed whether to lend its support to the land transfer that is expected to take place.
"With the way things have been, it's always good to have that support," DuPuis said.
This week, Van Sickle said, she is going to be working with the city's planning director to develop a quit claim deed for the site on Wisconsin Point to transfer the land there, and work is ongoing to develop the quit claim deed with St. Francis to transfer the Nemadji River mass grave to the Band's ownership.
She said that will put the land in fee status and the letter is critical to placing it in trust with the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Band's name.
Burial sites preservation board member Jennifer Haas said she thinks the project is a step in the right direction.
"I think it's wonderful what you've been able to accomplish, and it's a direction our state should be moving in as a whole," she said. "I would love the opportunity to present to a forum how this was accomplished."
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is hosting the Midwest Archeological Conference next year, said Katherine Stevenson, burial site preservation board member. She said it's been discussed to try to encourage indigenous people to get involved and the effort to return the burial sites to the Fond du Lac Band would be a great topic for that.
With issues like the bodies of indigenous people found at boarding schools and what happened on Wisconsin Point, DuPuis said there comes a time when the Band just needs to bring their people home for closure.
"Whatever happened in the past — right, wrong or indifferent — it's all in our laps today … It's in our laps to fix it all," DuPuis said.