COVID-19, Drug Overdose, Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women All Major Concerns In Wisconsin's 16th Annual State Of The Tribes
16 years ago, the Annual State of the Tribes began as an opportunity for the people of Wisconsin, members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and state Legislature to give platform to issues facing Wisconsin Native tribes. Each year the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council selects a governing member to deliver the annual address. This year, that person is John Johnson of Luc du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.
“Speaking on behalf of 11 tribal nations, living within what's now known as Wisconsin is a great opportunity and responsibility,” said Johnson.
He began his address by commemorating lives lost from COVID-19, which has hit native populations particularly hard. Indigenous people in Wisconsin are now dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in the state according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
“I offer my sympathy and sincere sympathy, the live loss this terrible pandemic. This pandemic has hit hard, the most wrong, vulnerable people. This includes our elders and those with susceptible health conditions within our communities. We cherish our elders and care for our community members,” he said
Johnson says that it isn’t just COVID-19 that is killing members of his community during the pandemic but so are drugs. According to Johnson, as mental health, economic and social challenges brought on by the pandemic grow, so have drug overdoses.
“Both prescription and illegal substance substances is growing threat across the north woods. To help in the fight. We believe the money allocated in the state budget for a northern Wisconsin regional mental health and treatment facility, ladder, crucial building block and a foundation of dismantling, dismantling the scourge of drugs,” he said.
He doubled down on his call for a regional mental health facility when he brought up the tragic shooting that took place just last week where three people were shot, two fatally at the Oneida Casino in Green Bay.
“The recent shooting that continues to impact the lives of our northern Oneida tribal members,” he said.
The state of native women was another pressing topic touched on by Johnson.
“We are seeing towards greater numbers of murdered and missing native women. There are people who believe here that we are less than human. They believe it is acceptable to murder rape and induct native women and girls,” he said.
This tragic reality, said Johnson, is a driving force behind ongoing efforts to retire offensive and demeaning names and mascots.
“So, think of the worst name somebody could call your wife, your mother, your daughter, your sister, your aunt, niece and granddaughter. That's what squaw means to the native women and girls. Most recently, we collaborated with our neighbors in the north woods to change the name of Squaw Lake,” he said.
Johnson was proud to announce that after 30 years of effort to erase the derogatory term, the name of the lake will be changed to Amber Lake
“We're probably going to have a little ceremony for that lake and our women's back home, which we hold high regards for our women,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Johnson highlighted the accomplishment of Wayne Valliere — a traditional birchbark canoe builder from Lac du Flambeau who was selected as a Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Johnson said Valliere is just one testament to the many contributions made by native people to the history and culture of the state of Wisconsin.