October 24, 2014

Lawmakers face criticism in State of the Tribes

Wisconsin lawmakers received an update Thursday on the state of Wisconsin 11 federally recognized tribes. They also faced criticism for a change in state law they approved last year that makes it harder for tribes to challenge the use of race-based mascots, logos, and nicknames at public schools.

The annual State of the Tribes Address was delivered by Menominee Chairwoman Laurie Boivin, who was elected to serve in the position just this past weekend. While her speech touched on a number of issues facing the state’s tribes, she singled out lawmakers specifically for their vote last session to change the process for removing potentially offensive mascots. Boivin said “our children should not be subjected to inaccurate representations of their cultural identity.”

Prior to the change, the state Department of Public Instruction could launch an investigation and order a school to remove a potentially offensive mascot based on a single complaint. Now, any challenge must be backed by a petition signed by district residents. Boivin said “in a court of law, victims of discrimination are not required to circulate a petition to…prove the action occurred. Why is it our children are not afforded the same consideration?”

Boivin also updated lawmakers about the poverty many of Wisconsin’s tribes still struggle with, along with the drugs and gangs that are showing up on reservations across the state. The Menominee Tribe is currently seeking approval for a new casino in the Kenosha area, although the proposal continues to face opposition from other tribes. Boivin’s address only made an allusion to the controversy, noting that while “Indian gaming has led a few tribes out of poverty, many of our nations continue to struggle.”

Boivin also touched on the environmental issues the tribes have been at odds with lawmakers over during the past year. She once again avoided mentioning a specific controversy, namely tribal opposition to a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, but instead focused on the important relationship they have with the land and the fact that many still rely on it to support their way of life.