Forest County Potawatomi Community Chairman Ned Daniels, Jr. made several key points, as he gave the 16th annual State of the Tribes address Tuesday afternoon at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Most, but not all, of the points seemed to draw bi-partisan support from the audience in the State Assembly chambers.
That audience included Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul, other state officials, leaders of Wisconsin's ten other federally-recognized tribes, and nearly all 132 members of the State Assembly and State Senate.
The Forest County Potawatomi Community offices are in the northern Wisconsin city of Crandon. But the Potawatomi's traditional lands stretched south along Lake Michigan through Milwaukee and Kenosha, and into what is now Walworth County. The tribe operates a large casino and hotel near downtown Milwaukee.
Daniels began by saying the opioid epidemic that has affected most of Wisconsin is hurting Native Americans too. He said he and his wife have been affected and are now caring for some of their grandchildren. Daniels thanked Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), whose daughter has struggled with opioids, for helping pass several bills dealing with addiction.
Daniels then called on lawmakers to pass recently-introduced opioid legislation: "We look forward to seeing how they will continue to help address and combat addiction in our communities."
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers applauded.
Next, Daniels turned to high school graduation rates for Native Americans. He said in the last ten years, the graduation rate for Potawatomi youth has gone from 60% to more than 90%. "Since I have been elected [in 2018] we have even reached 100%," Daniels said, to a loud, bipartisan ovation.
But Daniels said not all Wisconsin tribes have the ability to provide support and treatment for youth so that they can stay in school and avoid opioid abuse. So, he again asked state lawmakers for help.
Daniels also said abuse of Native American females remains a big problem. "Native women and girls are being exploited, trafficked, and subjected to violence at a disproportionately high rate. This is a serious issue, and something we cannot afford to turn our eyes from," he said.
Daniels praised President Donald Trump for recently creating a White House task force on missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. He also thanked a bi-partisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers for creating a state task force on murdered and missing tribal women and girls. "Thank you for your work and advocacy on this issue, " Daniels said.
Near the end of his half-hour speech, Daniels struck a more controversial topic — climate change. When Daniels said: "Thank you, Governor Evers, for establishing a task force on climate change," it appeared from the WisconsinEye webcast that only Democratic legislators applauded, not Republicans.
However, Daniels said he looked forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans on the task force "to help find meaningful strategies to help mitigate the effects of climate change."
Daniels ended with a note of optimism, and said state officials are not alone in their efforts to shape the future. "You have partners in the Wisconsin tribes. We must work together and collaborate on solutions to the problems of today. There is a common ground between us," he said.