The new chair of the Menominee Tribe urged state officials in today’s State of the Tribes address to find a new solution to the use of race-based mascots and nicknames, urging a stronger alliance to celebrate “our distinct backgrounds.”
Still, Chairwoman Laurie Boivin did not address a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin and the off-reservation casino her tribe wants to build in Kenosha, two of the most high-profile issues impacting state-tribal relations over the last two years. The casino proposal has also split the tribes with the Forest County Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk opposed to the project, which is awaiting a decision from Gov. Scott Walker.
Boivin told the Assembly chamber she would be “remiss” if she did not bring up the mascot and logo issue and the negative social impacts it has on tribal people, especially children, drawing standing ovation from Dems and tribal members in the audience.
Lawmakers recently overhauled the process for challenging race-based mascots and nicknames to make the process harder for those seeking their elimination.
Boivin noted backers of the new law believe it’s a fair and equitable standard for school districts. But she said opponents argue the new standard “actually promotes discrimination, pupil harassment and stereotyping of our Native American culture and heritage.”
“In a court of law, victims of discrimination are not required to circulate a petition to garner support to prove the action occurred. Why is it that our children are not afforded the same consideration?” she said, referencing a provision in the new law requiring those seeking to overturn a nickname or mascot to submit a petition signed by 10 percent of the district population.
She urged lawmakers to work with the tribes to find a better solution.
“Our children should not be subjected to inaccurate representations of their cultural identity,” she said.
Much of Boivin’s speech focused on the challenges facing the state’s 11 tribes, including unemployment, drugs, education, health-related issues, gangs and economic prosperity. She stressed positive developments in state-tribal relations and urged lawmakers to approve two bills: AB 31, allowing tribes to insure property under the local government property insurance fund and; and AB 32, relating to tribal treatment facility participation in the intoxicated driver program. She also appealed to lawmakers for help in improving the tribes’ health care systems.
While she did not mention the proposed mine in the Penokee Hills, she referenced “public clashes with the state on a number of high-profile natural resource issues.” She also stressed how some tribes rely on natural resources to survive. While touting tribal beliefs on preservation, Boivin also said she’s no stranger to economic develop.
“It is only with the continued dialogue that a door remains open,” she said. “In the end, we all live in this great state and we all want to do what is best for our people, both those here today and those who will walk after us. There are no boundaries for environmental impacts.”
She also mentioned the tribes’ gaming compacts in the context of the funding they produce that help deal with various issue on the reservations while also providing the state money. But she also said more money was needed to improve the health, welfare and safety of tribal communities.
“We need a continual dialogue to get more funding back to the tribes," she said.