First lady Jill Biden visits Wisconsin, aiming to reinforce Native American support for her husband
First lady Jill Biden and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland are the latest high-profile Democrats to visit Wisconsin, in support of reelecting President Joe Biden next year.
Biden and Haaland spent three hours Tuesday touring the Menominee Reservation in northeastern Wisconsin.
Their first stop was at a tribal-owned sawmill, which cuts wood harvested from the Menominee's nationally-recognized sustainable forestry program. The tribe has received nearly $1 million this year from the federal wood products infrastructure assistance program.
Biden asked a sawmill employee about his wages:
"Do you mind if I ask you — is it an hourly wage?," she said.
"Yes," he replied.
Biden said, "Well, give me a range."
"It goes from $18 an hour up to $35," the worker replied.
Later, after a stop at a primary school, the tour went to the College of the Menominee Nation, where the visitors learned about the teaching of sustainable agriculture and watched four tribal members take part in a drum circle, as others danced.
Finally, the tour went to a Native Women's Empowerment Summit at the Menominee Convention Center.
There, first lady Biden touted President Joe Biden directing millions of dollars of other funds to tribes across the U.S.
"Joe and I stand with you, and all of Indian country, as we build a brighter future together," she promised.
Interior Secretary Haaland spoke about creating partnerships between her agency's Bureau of Indian Affairs and philanthropic groups.
"I am excited that as one of the first partnerships, the Bureau of Indian Education is working with the Trust for Public Land to build nine new schoolyards in tribal communities. That includes a new schoolyard at the Menominee Tribal School right here," Haaland, who is Native American, said to applause.
Haaland and Biden were greeted warmly throughout their visit. Jennifer Gauthier directs the Sustainable Development Institute at the tribal college, and led a tour of the college garden.
Gauthier said Biden seemed to connect with what was said.
"She did. She was happy to hear about our language revitalization efforts and how we're integrating language and culture into the agriculture work that we're doing. She asked a lot questions about the plants we're growing. Loved that we're growing pumpkins for food and not pumpkins for Halloween decorating," Gauthier told WUWM.
Gauthier said the tribe is better off than it was three years ago, when Joe Biden was elected president.
Tribal member Marsha Uutela said the Biden administration is moving in the right direction. But Uutela said Menominee County, which overlaps the tribal reservation, often ranks as the least healthy of Wisconsin's 72 counties and has the highest poverty rate.
"I've lived through the results of being 72 out of 72. There's still a lot that needs to be done. And hopefully, this administration can at least help us a little bit with that," Uutela said.
Overwhelming support for Joe Biden in small but Democratic Menominee County in the 2020 presidential election is one of the reasons Biden narrowly carried Wisconsin. Now, the Biden family is hoping it has earned continued support from the Menominee and other Wisconsin tribes.
There are tens of thousands of Indigenous votes at stake here.
A spokesperson for the Republican Party of Wisconsin did not respond to WUWM's request for comment.