Wisconsin’s State of the Tribes calls on legislators, Native communities to work together

Wisconsin continues a two-decade tradition with the State of the Tribes Address.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 5:31 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin continued a tradition of nearly two decades with Tuesday’s State of the Tribes address.

The speech before the state’s top elected officials is a chance to shed light on the challenges impacting Native communities statewide. In its 19th year, the address comes as legislators are actively working on the next budget.

Robert VanZile Jr., chairman of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, spoke in the Assembly, pointing to ongoing issues like illegal gaming, substance abuse and health care.

“Untreated mental health challenges contribute to substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, to name a few areas that negatively impact all communities,” he said. “There’s no question investment in mental health services, accessibility, will positively impact all of our communities.”

State of the Tribes 2023
State of the Tribes 2023(WMTV/Michelle Baik)

VanZile named a number of challenges in health care, including recruitment and the pressure to pay competitive wages. He also described emergency services being far and difficult to access by tribes. “With that being said, there’s a large burden put on tribes to act as emergency caregivers.”

He gave tangible ways for state officials, which included Gov. Tony Evers (D - Wisconsin) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R - Rochester) in attendance, to take action. VanZile called for them to allow tribes to function with nurse practitioners without physicians’ supervision.

“I would encourage everyone with state budget responsibilities to continue to work with the tribes,” VanZile said. “We have insight into what’s working and what can be improved upon.”

Ahead of the address, in a scheduled meeting between Republican legislators and the press, Rep. Mark Born (R - Beaver Dam) did not give any specifics about budget priorities or discussions involving Native communities.

“I think that we have a history of working with our tribal communities on the funds that the tribes bring forward to invest in a variety of ways, and every budget and this budget discussions will be the same,” Born, who is the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, said.

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