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Legal Memorandum: Human Burial Ground on a Property in MN

Issue: As a practical matter, what can a landowner who discovers or suspects a human burial ground on his or her property in Minnesota expect from the Indian Affairs Council (IAC) and what recourse is available to a landowner who is dissatisfied with the IAC’s decision?

Area of Law: Native Populations & Tribal Law, Real Estate Law
Keywords: Landlord; Human burial ground
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: Minnesota Statutes § 307.08, subd. 2,subd. 7; Minn. Stat. § 307.082; 25 U.S.C. § 3001
Date: 00/01/2008

Use of such a property is governed by Minnesota Statutes § 307.08.  (The federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), 25 U.S.C. § 3001, et seq., pertains to federal and tribal, not private, lands.)

According to Minnesota Statutes § 307.08, the landowner who discovers or suspects a human burial ground on his or her property necessarily comes under the purview of the statute and the authority of the State.  Minn. Stat. § 307.08, subd. 7.  When remains are found on private land outside of a recorded cemetery, the landowner must request authentication of the burial grounds as Indian by the State Archaeologist.*FN1  Id., subd. 3a.  The State Archaeologist will involve Minnesota’s Indian Affairs Council (IAC), if the remains discovered or suspected are probable Indian remains.  Id.  “If such burials are Indian, as determined by the state archaeologist, efforts shall be made by the state archaeologist and the Indian Affairs Council to ascertain their tribal identity [and] shall be turned over to contemporary tribal leaders for disposition.”  Id., subd. 7.  “No Indian burial ground may be relocated unless the request to relocate is approved by the Indian Affairs Council.”  Id., subd. 8.  When a human burial area is known or suspected to exist on private land, the landowner or developer must “submit construction and development plans to the state archaeologist for review . . . prior to any disturbance within the burial area [and such plans must] also be submitted to the Indian Affairs Council [if the burials are suspected […]

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