Wisconsin tribes call for state cooperation on topics including health care, gaming, environment
Wisconsin's 11 federally-recognized tribes are calling for more state cooperation on health care, casino revenue, and protecting the environment.
Robert Van Zile, chairman of the Sokaogan Chippewa Community, spelled out details when delivering the annual State of the Tribes speech Tuesday at the State Capitol.
One thing Van Zile told Gov. Tony Evers and about 130 lawmakers is that tribes receive very limited funds from the federal Indian Health Services program. Van Zile says that makes it tough to hire and keep health care providers.
"Wage pressure and difficulty recruiting medical talent. Rural areas are really hurting and hindering quality care for patient care," Van Zile said.
Van Zile asked for a change in Wisconsin law that would allow nurse practitioners to work without supervision from physicians.
He also urges the state to help the tribes provide more mental health counseling and to fight opioid addictions.
On gaming, Van Zile calls for more state regulation and consumer protection related to gambling machines at non-tribal taverns. He also asks for tribes to be able to keep more revenue from their casinos, and share less with the state—allowing tribes to invest in diversifying their economy.
"For our tribes to make strides toward economic self-sustainability, we must diversify our economic engines beyond casino revenue," Van Zile said.
Van Zile also requests that Wisconsin officials let tribes add their expertise to battling contamination from so-called "forever chemicals" known as PFAS that threaten many fish. He says the pollution may hurt the Wisconsin tradition of Friday night fish frys.
"Might just require a Mr. Yuk sign and sticker to prevent people from poisoning themselves," Van Zile said.
The Associated Press reports that the Assembly co-chair of the legislature's budget committee, Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) said before Van Zile's speech that he plans to work with tribal leaders during the budget process.
But overall, the GOP has warned that Evers wants too much spending in his state budget proposal.
How that battle plays out this spring could affect calls for more state-tribal cooperation.
Editor's Note: Audio and video from Wisconsin Eye contributed to this story.