Tribal Chairman Delivers First Ever State of the Tribes

By: Zac Schultz
By: Zac Schultz

Madison: For the first time in state history tribal leaders addressed the legislature.

The Wisconsin Flag and Old Glory shared the floor of the Assembly Tuesday morning with tribal flags. 10 of Wisconsin's 11 Indian tribes were represented by the Great Lakes Intertribal Council.

Chairman Ray DePerry called it a historic moment. "A new day has arrived in state–tribal relationships."

DePerry said this speech should be the jumping off point for more discussions on important Indian issues like health care, education and Indian gaming.

But DePerry said one issue couldn't be left until later. He has one vital request of lawmakers, "To enact legislation that would eliminate from our public school systems once and for all the use of Indian logos, mascots and any other of the stereotypical images of American Indians."

DePerry says there are still 40 public schools like the Waunakee Warriors that use logos and nicknames that are offensive. He says more need to copy schools like Milton–which changed their name from the Redmen to the Redhawks in 1999.

Chairman DePerry says its places like Squaw Bay in Monona and mascots like the braves and the Indians that lead to discrimination. He says if the local government won't change the name the state needs to step in and do it for them.

Rep. Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls) says there may be support for the movement. "Maybe Mr. DePerry is right. Maybe it's right at some point in time if the locals can't resolve the issue it's time for the state to step in and say you have to address this issue."

"We need to have a greater level of sensitivity to it," agrees Assembly Speaker John Gard. Gard (R-Peshtigo) says he would prefer local schools decide to change mascots on their own but he'll understand if the legislature decides to act. "If there's a majority of people who want to pass a bill I won't stand in the way of it passing."

Chairman DePerry says it would send an important message of understanding. "Whether we are black, white, brown or yellow is that we all belong to the state of humanity."

The Monona City Council is in the process of the changing the name of squaw bay. DePerry says that's a sign of progress.

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