Last week, I was in Madison, Wisconsin, for the quarterly Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) Tribal Advisory Committee Meeting. After the meeting, I had just enough time to run over to the Statehouse to attend the annual State of the Tribes address hosted by the Wisconsin State Assembly. The three balcony sitting areas were packed with tribal members, government officials, and school children. I luckily managed to squeeze in a peek from behind a pillar to watch the address.
Representatives from all 11 Wisconsin tribes were in attendance. Chris McGeshick, chairman of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, gave the formal address to the Wisconsin legislators. The speech was an opportunity for the Wisconsin tribes to highlight the successes of the past year and emphasize remaining challenges.
Chairman McGeshick discussed the need for Wisconsin legislators to work with the tribes to created a strong middle class in Indian Country that honors Native tradition while welcoming Native Americans into the American dream. He covered many critical issues impacting Native Wisconsin communities including healthcare access, education of tribal children through charter schools on reservations, the desire to abolish all use of offensive mascots in public schools, and the continual need for strong employment strategies on reservations.
The State of the Tribes speech was a call to action for Wisconsin legislators to work with the tribes on all of the challenges facing tribal members today. Chairman McGeshick was clear that Wisconsin tribes are willing and ready to collaborate with legislators to improve the economic health and the quality of life of their tribal communities.
Chairman McGeshick summed it up best when he said: “We aren’t destitute, and we aren’t distressed. We are not defeated. We will be strong, and together we will move forward.”