Spring 2017: By Tamara Jager Stewart.
In the late 1980s, while working in Wisconsin, Lynne Goldstein, now archaeology professor and director of the Campus Archaeology Program at Michigan State University, served on a panel working to assess Wisconsin’s historic preservation laws. “A wide range of changes were proposed and passed—with bipartisan support—and Wisconsin had some of the best overall preservation laws and policies in the country,” recalled Goldstein. The state adopted a highly effective and innovative burial law.
Nearly thirty years later, when a politically-connected developer proposed building on land containing documented burials, the governor and others pushed to change the state burial law. “Fortunately, enough people—including Native American tribes—pushed back, and the changes were halted, at least temporarily,” Goldstein said, though a study committee continues to review the law.
Nationwide attempts to weaken historic preservation and burial laws have been accompanied by funding cuts for archaeology programs, museums, and historic sites, as well as state and federal archaeological positions. “We are already losing a huge amount of institutional knowledge about the archaeological record, and now we are losing the positions and any possible transfer of that knowledge,” said Lynne Sebastian, the former director of historic preservation programs with the non-profit SRI Foundation and the former New Mexico State Archaeologist.
“There have been budget cuts in most state offices across the Midwest, leaving staffing of preservation offices at a bare minimum,” said Goldstein. She noted a trend in the last five to ten years toward government officials and the public devaluing archaeology and historic preservation, and resisting state and federal mandates that protect cultural resources.
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