The chairman of the Oneida Nation called on the state Tuesday to work with Wisconsin's tribes in addressing climate change, Indian mascots and the opioid crisis. Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill spoke to a crowd that included both houses of the Legislature, Gov. Tony Evers and members of the state Supreme Court.
Hill says conditions have improved for Wisconsin tribes in some areas — including unemployment and household income since the last U.S. census was taken. But he says, tribal members continue to struggle with opioid addiction, and it's taking a toll.
“In 2017, American Indians and Alaska natives had the highest rate of drug overdose deaths of any race. In Wisconsin, at almost three times the rate of the general population. Substance abuse is often an attempt to avoid painful feelings through self-medication, so it would be no surprise that the opioid crisis has roots in historical and inter-generational trauma for our communities,” he explains.
Hill says Wisconsin tribes face a funding shortage when it comes to fighting addiction, and calls on the state and the tribes to work together. He says another major concern is climate change. He called it “a real national emergency” that’s affecting not only the tribes, but the state’s tourism industry.
“We are experiencing more extreme temperatures and hotter days than ever before. The ice cover on the Great Lakes is forming later and melting sooner. A shorter and warmer winter threatens Wisconsin tourism and recreation such as ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding, which many of our brothers and sisters to the north rely upon to support their communities," he says.
Hill calls on the Legislature to revive the Global Warming Task Force, to issue new initiatives designed to combat climate change. The task force formed in 2007 under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, and made recommendations the following year. Then, it disbanded. On another topic, Hill calls for the removal of Native American imagery from the public schools. He says more than 30 of them still use Indian mascots, logos and/or nicknames.
"The use of Indian imagery stereotypes and dehumanizes our cultures and Native American people for the sake of entertainment," he says.
Hill says the mascots also encourage racist behavior in the name of school spirit, which is socially and academically detrimental to all children.
Editor's note: Audio in this story is courtesy of WisconsinEye.