Wisconsin will be a stronger state if it works to improve the lives of every citizen – including its tribal members. That was the message the state’s 11 tribes delivered to the Legislature on Tuesday, with their annual address.
Their concerns echo those of other citizens, yet hold their own challenges.
The number one concern Wisconsin’s 11 tribes brought before the Legislature on Tuesday is the health of the environment.
Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band who spoke on behalf of all the tribes, says Wisconsin’s greatest natural resource is the Great Lakes, so preserving them is paramount.
“We are responsible for the largest system of fresh water in the world. The Woodland Tribes of the Great Lakes area were the first to use the many resources. The Great Lakes basin, abundant game, fertile soil and plentiful water enabled the early development of hunting, sustainable agriculture and fishing. Respecting and caring for the Great Lakes is an inherent responsibility passed on for generations,” she says.
Holsey applauds Gov. Walker for opposing an item in President Trump’s proposed budget – it would cut federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. She calls on lawmakers to oppose all development projects that could lead to erosion of the Great Lakes.
Holsey also worries about a proposed mine across the Michigan border that she hopes Wisconsin will oppose. She says the development would threaten burial sites belonging to the Menominee Tribe.
On the topic of education, Holsey bemoans disparities she sees in schools across the state, including in those that tribal children attend. “We have to close what I call the opportunity gap, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is far too wide. We support the enhancement of advancing Head Start and the enhancement of quality teaching, but we can’t stop there. We need to create the same continuity and provide pay incentive and educational advancement opportunities within our public schools and in our indigenous emergence schools in order to compete on a broader level,” she says.
Holsey calls on legislators to work with tribal leaders to provide the STEM curriculum in more schools.
When it comes to the health care of tribal members, Holsey urges legislators to help expand access. She says it’s crucial that they support the federal waivers that bring services to people with challenging conditions, so they can remain in the community or at home, rather than having to stay in a nursing home or hospital.
“We cannot speak of health care without the recognition of our most vulnerable: the elderly, disabled and children,” she says.
Holsey also commends the Legislature’s efforts to combat opioid abuse, a problem that is also plaguing tribal communities.
While Holsey spoke of ways tribal leaders and lawmakers could work together, she avoided any mention of a rift involving the Stockbridge-Munsee and the Ho Chunk over casino expansion. Her tribe is threatening to withhold a nearly $1 million payment to the state – if the Ho Chunk are allowed to expand their gambling hall, located about 17 miles from the casino the Stockbridge-Munsee operate. It wants Gov. Walker to block the expansion, fearing it would siphon scores of customers, threatening jobs and income.