The Annual State of the Tribes address brings issues and concerns important to Wisconsin’s tribal nations before the State Assembly.
On May 11th, President John Johnson Sr. of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians delivered the 17th Annual State of the Tribes address, appearing in-person before the Assembly. The audience for the address also included Governor Tony Evers, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, and several leaders and representatives from Wisconsin’s tribal nations.
The effects that the state legislature and Indigenous populations have on one another was a constant theme throughout the address. Johnson said this reciprocity makes it important to encourage collaboration between the two through mutual cultural understanding.
“For all of us to collaborate to create a prosperous future for all, we must continue to work together. We must find common ground that overcomes historic wrongs, race, culture, traditions, and history – which all play a role in our ability to collaborate across cultures on issues impacting future generations,” Johnson said.
One proposed site of collaboration between the legislature and tribal nations was environmental protection and resource management. Johnson emphasized that the health of Indigenous communities is dependent on the health of their natural environment, both for consumption, and the economic benefits that stem from environmental tourism.
Johnson called for an end to mining and chemical pollution, and treatment for chronic wasting and other natural diseases in service of protecting Wisconsin’s wilderness.
“We ask all levels of state government to balance economic development and environmental protections. According to our teachings, the Lac du Flambeau and many other tribes make decisions with seven generations in mind. We ask how our decisions today will impact those who come hundreds of years from now. We respectfully ask every level of state government to do the same,” Johnson said.
Wisconsin’s tribal nations have seen recent increases in drug abuse and decreases in mental health during the pandemic. Johnson expressed support for Governor Evers’ state budget proposal that would construct regional health centers across the state to provide mental health and addiction related services.
Johnson drew the address to a close by calling for the state to combat systemic racism by discussing how racism has affected Indigenous Wisconsinites. This included celebration for progress to date on eliminating racially insensitive Indigenous mascots, and the renaming of a northern Wisconsin lake previously named for an offensive term for Indigenous women.
Last year, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul created the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force to address the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women. The task force continues to unify government and tribal forces behind preventing future violence. In expressing commitment to this cause, Governor Tony Evers joined many tribal nations this year in recognizing May 5th as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Day at the state level.
Johnson made clear that while Wisconsin has made good progress in addressing racism towards Indigenous populations, there is still much more to be done.
“We need cultural responsiveness and equity initiatives at every level of the state government to root out and address systemic racism…we ask for the legislature’s support in training all levels of government in cultural education and inclusivity to create a more representative, informed government. We believe this is another step in making better decisions on behalf of all people calling Wisconsin home,” Johnson said.