History is at the heart of the discourse on the state of Wisconsin’s tribes in 2021


The deep currents of history and their inexorable flows under current conditions flowed throughout the 2021 State of the Tribes Address delivered to the Wisconsin Legislature on behalf of the 11 sovereign and recognized tribal nations. federal government of Wisconsin. At the same time, the historic scale of the coronavirus pandemic has hovered over the discourse and its setting.

The speech was delivered by John D. Johnson, Sr., chairman of the Lake Superior Chippewa Torch Lake Band, whose 12-by-12-mile reserve – or Waswagoning, a “torch-fishing place” in the Ojibway language – now straddles parts of Iron, Oneida and Vilas counties. “Just travel north to Minocqua and hang on to the left,” Johnson said, urging lawmakers to visit him.

Johnson sketched out an overview of the relationship between tribal nations and state government, stemming from Indigenous rights confirmed in treaties with the federal government since before Wisconsin joined the Union. Nearly two centuries later, the cultural and legal consequences of treaties inform both the daily life and long-term issues of Indigenous communities. From the memory of the Sandy Lake Tragedy to the legacy of bald eagle “Old Abe” to the memories of “Wisconsin Walleye War” and its lingering tensions, Johnson linked the past and present to illustrate issues important to the indigenous peoples of Wisconsin.

The speech marked the 17th annual State of the Tribes Address. the Great Lakes Intertribal Council chooses a chief from one of Wisconsin’s tribal nations to communicate their concerns and priorities to lawmakers.

At the start of the speech, Johnson called for a moment of silence to remember those who have been lost during the pandemic. COVID-19 has hit Indigenous communities particularly hard across the country, including Wisconsin, causing widespread disparities among different racial and ethnic groups monitored by public health authorities.

As of May 10, the 95 confirmed deaths among Native American Wisconsinites represented the state’s highest COVID-19 death rate by race or ethnicity, over 50% higher than white residents and over 35% higher than black residents. Equally significant is the disparity in hospitalization rates, with Native American Wisconsinites more than twice as likely as white residents to be admitted for treatment after a diagnosis, a level just below that of black residents. In terms of confirmed cases, Native American Wisconsinites are about 40% more likely to be infected than white residents, but about 80% as likely as Hispanic residents, who have the highest rate in the state.

“The pandemic has hit the most vulnerable people hard,” said Johnson, who wore a mask throughout the speech. “This includes our seniors and those with vulnerable health issues in our communities.”

Johnson highlighted the opioid epidemic and a parallel problem with methamphetamine addiction in northern Wisconsin that continued during the global health crisis.

“The flow of drugs to the Northwoods has intensified during the pandemic as mental health, economic and social issues place increasing pressure on individuals and families,” he said.

To deal with this problem, Johnson approved a state budget proposal put forward by Governor Tony Evers which would finance a regional medical facility to provide mental health care and addiction treatment. He also noted the continued barrage of mass shootings across the United States, including a Shooting on May 1 at Oneida Casino to Ashwaubenon, as a further impetus to prioritize mental health.

The economic impacts of tribal game in Indigenous communities in Wisconsin and surrounding areas was the first of several examples Johnson raised to address misconceptions about governance and sovereignty. Highlighting the origins of the Lac du Flambeau name, he discussed indigenous practices of spearfishing and netting, explaining how the annual harvest is harvested and used, and decrying to continue bullying, threats and assaults faced by people exercising their tribal rights.

“This spear fishing season, we have provided elders in our community and others who have struggled to eat during the pandemic with fish,” Johnson said. “We harvest fish, hunt deer, and harvest wild rice and other foods that depend on a healthy ecosystem.”

Johnson described the cultural role and longevity of these rights.

As chairman of Voigt intertribal working group committee, Johnson plays a role in making policy recommendations regarding natural resources and treaty rights to the board of directors of the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission.

The importance of natural resources to Wisconsin’s tribal cultures and livelihoods was underscored by Johnson, who advocated development guided by a long-term prioritization of sustainability. As such, Johnson condemned mining, citing the Mine Flambeau, an open-pit gold and copper mine in Rusk County that operated in the 1990s and was the subject of intense controversy and legal battles – it has since been the subject of a complaints process.

“We ask how our decisions today impact those who will succeed us hundreds of years from now,” Johnson said. “We respectfully call on all levels of state government to do the same.”

Johnson noted and denounced the fanaticism that Indigenous communities in Wisconsin have endured and continue to clash with.

To challenge systemic racism and discrimination, Johnson called for continued investment in education. He cited the example of act 31 and its requirements that Indigenous culture and history be taught in Wisconsin schools. (PBS Wisconsin is a partner in the development of the First Nations of Wisconsin study program.) He also noted the passage and promulgation of April 2021 of the Senate Bill 69, which defines the requirements for teaching about the Holocaust and other genocides.

Praising those goals, Johnson said he hopes this new law will also mean that students will be made aware of the genocide being perpetrated on Indigenous peoples.

In conclusion, Johnson discussed efforts to change derogatory place names and offensive sports mascots. He underlined the approval of a new name for a lake in the western counties of Oneida and Vilas.

Johnson made a connection between the dehumanizing language experienced by Indigenous people and the current crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women.

May 5 marked MMIW awareness day, which has been recognized by tribal councils and over a dozen local government agencies across the state. In July 2020, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul convened a Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women for the state. The group subsequently held its first meeting in December and identified the lack of data on the scope of this issue as an immediate priority. The state received $ 300,000 from the US Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women grant program, with $ 200,000 spent on a research project to understand how many indigenous women in the state are victims of such violence. crimes.


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