Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Time For Racine To Back Off In Cemetery Skirmish

Sometimes, things have a way of developing into a controversy which no one may have intended - but becomes highly toxic anyway.

Such is the issue of Mound Cemetery in Racine.

Late this summer, the Meredith family approached the city about purchasing land at Mound Cemetery for a family burial plot.

Since the family member who would inaugurate the plot had just died - time was a bit of an issue for them.

The Meredith family is widely known in Racine as one third of the respected Maresh, Meredith & Acklam funeral home business on Main Street in Racine.

Mound Cemetery dates back to 1852 in Racine history and has been designated as a historical landmark. It's a really cool place. It derives its name from the Potawatomi Native-Americans who used it for sacred burial grounds by building 14 known mounds.

The land at Mound Cemetery the Meredith's requested to purchase was for a portion previously unplatted by cemetery officials. It was not thought to be part of mound - but then again, no one was exactly sure.

The Meredith's were very clear that their intent was not to purchase land that was sacred and were willing to bear any cost associated with satisfying those types of questions. Remember, they have a dead relative on ice, so they wanted to get the show on the road.

Unfortunately for them, the cemetery commission turned their request down - unanimously. It wasn't that they didn't want the money the Meredith's were offering - in fact cemetery revenue is down for the city - by about $60,000 this year. That money would have been great. They just weren't sure what was under that land - why take a chance?

The mounds in Mound Cemetery are woven between more modern grave sites - which still date back to the Civil War. Some historians said there were no sacred burials at the site the Meredith's requested, some said possibly there were. Maps were old, unclear and conflicting. Nothing pointed to it being a sacred spot for sure, but didn't rule it out either.

The Meredith's said they would pay for soil testing to see if it came up with any human remains and they appealed to the Parks Board to over-rule the cemetery commission. The Parks Board gave the Meredith's the green light - now it just needed to pass the Common Council.

To make a long story short - it went to the Common Council where the vote was tied and so Mayor John Dickert broke the tie with a yes vote to go ahead with the sale of the land - but not before a soil bore sample was taken to prove their were no Potawatomi Indians buried there.

The folks on the cemetery commission were kinda pissed - because it's their job to vote on these things - and they said no. Commission member and Common Council representative, Sandy Weidner, was not pleased - and she has a point.

Why have commissions at all if board members and Common Council aren't going to listen to them?

So a few days later, when the soil sample was to be taken and a couple dozen protesters (including American Indians) showed up at Mound Cemetery to ask that the ground not be disturbed by drilling into it. They asked for other, non-intrusive methods and the whole thing became a clusterfuck. No one was willing to commence with the test with the Indians present, so they postponed it.

What the city and the Meredith family may not realize is this situation is picking up steam across the state.

Formal requests from Native American representatives have been forwarded to the Meredith's to reconsider their offer. It has also come to the attention of the Native American grassroots group, Idle No More, who are already pretty ticked about the mine and pejorative sports names in Wisconsin.

The Siren would rather taunt teabillies with Korans than mess with Idle No More. It's time to walk away.

We do not believe the Meredith's wanted to commit any sacrilege in burying their loved one. We imagine they thought it was a nice spot, and the city - who needed the money - tried to accommodate them. The Meredith's have buried hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Racine residents. We think because of it - in this instance - they have even earned some special consideration. But, the cemetery commission was right.

Drilling into the ground would disturb the remains of anyone who might be buried there and if tree roots make ultrasound type testing unreliable - go somewhere else.

There can be no chance for mistake because the damage cannot be undone. Remember, this is a site of sacred Indian history - when they ask you to stop, it's time to stop. Period.