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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

 11:48 AM 

Greater cooperation called for in State of Tribes address

St. Croix Chippewa Chair Lewis Taylor urged the state today to recommit itself to the Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations, calling for more cooperation on issues like clean energy and community health.

In the sixth annual State of the Tribes address, Taylor said the committee got off to a fast start after Gov. Jim Doyle created it through executive order. But progress has since bogged down and more -- not less -- consultation was needed between the sate and tribes.

Taylor also urged cooperation on three initiatives, including a prisoner re-entry project designed to help young people get back into the workforce, the expansion of broadband access and work to improve U.S. 8, which stretches across northern Wisconsin from Norway through Crandon, Rhinelander and Ladysmith before heading into Minnesota.

"A sincere, open and continuing government to government consultation process will ensure the best possible conclusions," said Taylor, a vice chair of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.

Taylor told lawmakers the reservations have also struggled financially along with the rest of he state during the current economic downturn. He also said the tribes realize that they have to continue looking for new ways of cooperating and planning for the "better lives of all of our people."

"We realize that services cannot just stop at the reservation boundaries," he said.

Taylor also called on lawmakers to approve legislation that would change state law on mutual aid between tribal and state law enforcement agencies.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen found in an opinion that state law now does not recognize tribal agencies as law enforcement, preventing them from providing back up to county and municipal agencies. AB 713 would allow law enforcement agencies to both request help from state, county and municipal agencies and respond to their calls for help.

"If there is a need for mutual aid that has to pass so many steps, is that what you call progress? I don't think so," Taylor said. "Let's get it right. Let's protect our people and get it right."

Van Hollen, who attended the speech, said he has been working with lawmakers to address the issue since issuing his opinion, which he said identified a significant slight to tribal law enforcement in state law. He said he supports AB 713, which is scheduled for an executive session tomorrow before the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee.

"It's a problem we've tried to correct," Van Hollen said.

Taylor also urged lawmakers to allow tribal police officers to participate in the state pension program. He said many of the tribe's best officers have left for non-tribal departments because of the disparity in benefit packages.

He also said the state needs tribal representation on the UW System Board of Regents, and he praised lawmakers for approving the Indian Child Welfare Act. The law fulfills mandates of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act and ensures cultural, emotional and psychological ties between Indian children and their affiliated tribes.

Taylor singled out state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, for his work on the bill, resulting in a standing ovation from the tribal leaders present.

"My hat's off to you," said Taylor, who sported a cowboy hat.

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