Video, reflections, and transcriptions – Wisconsin State of the Tribes Address

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Here is my reflection on the day’s events. I’ll be going back and cleaning up spelling issues later.

It’s getting long. Much is transcription.

You can of course skip to these sections:
*Rain Forces Indian Drums, Tubas, and Cops To Coexist
*In the Assembly Chamber
*The Propaganda. DNR. Spearfishing.(At the 33 minute mark of the video)
And some others…

Rain Forces Indian Drums, Tubas, and Cops To Coexist
We were supposed to assemble outside on East side of the Capitol bldg at noon, but then the drizzle was turning to rain. The assembled sensibly enterd the Capitol. The wet crowd reminded me of the day we entered to protest Walker signing the voter ID bill but of course now there are no metal detectors and the issues have changed. We filled the rotunda and a group of people ringed the 1st floor and people even filled every opening from the 2nd floor to watch the drumming. A visiting band played what sounded like John Phillips Sousa on the 1st floor (I had seen them file in earlier with their matching white shirts and black pants) and I looked at ever-present protester Jon knowingly. I believe we said “This will be interesting”. Would the cops try to bust up this many people to preserve the band concert?

The strains of flutes and tubas died down and the drumming immediately began from within a circle of men in the midst of this dim canyon of marble and the silent rings of watchers – 1st very softly, then growing to fill the building. I stood maybe 6 feet away. I was videotaping their song but decided to put down the camera and step away both out of respect and to preserve my battery for the inevitable encircling of police I felt would come on in a minute – I saw the typical walkie talkie’what do I do now’ alarm on a cop’s face in my peripheral vision. The drum sound was so loud it vibrated through my chest. I pictured the good high schoolers one floor up with their brass and silver instruments laid flat on their laps in the dimness, following the instructions of the conductor who told them to stay in position and in silence. The song was too soon over and almost immediately the high school band music swells up in something that sounded like a copycat of America the Beautiful. Cops came close. I put the video on and train it on the police assuming no good. They are all friendliness though. Shaking hands. A woman I barely know comes up to hug me. She is friendly with a woman cop there but she calls her the wrong name. No matter. There are smiles all around, cops included.

No drummers are arrested this day.

We go up to the 3rd floor to sit in the assembly gallery – the site of so many “crimes” against decorum like holding up little slips of paper or smart phones. . Everybody is on their best behavior today though I assume out of respect for our visiting tribe members more than anything else. Evey single seat in each of the 3 galleries fills and we have people standing behind us.

In the Assembly Chamber
At some point a drum begins to sound from an area below and underneath the gallery. We all stand out of respect. The song goes on a long time and I have a great feeling as I imagine that there will be no speech today and all of the legislators will file in and they will be asked to stand and listen to music for one hour and that will be the communications between the respective governments today. But it was just a daydream. The music stops and we are free to watch the legislators milling around below as if they are in their zoo enclosure and we are tucked safely in our tiny observation seats behind a railing, our page guarding the door.

I can see why the legislature does not want me to take a photo of them from here. I watch Robin Vos complaining about some unknown drama to Glenn Grothman Vos points both of his fingers down at a chair brings them up, brings them down, brings them up… this repeats and his face is contorting, a little pink, and his arms move up and down like a farm machine. There must be some injustice with the names on the chairs. The matriarch of the mine bill, Representative Mary Williams, drifts imperiously across the floor to her seat. Dale Schultz looks zen. Tanned. Smiling. He always looks like he is supposed to be where he is. Senator David Hansen strides toward the tribal leaders that are seated in a grouping to the side of the regular seats. He shakes hands applying a second grip to arms. This is the full welcome and I know he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t feel it. Now Bob Jauch approaches with a little less force but the same warmth standing next to Senator Hansen. Now Tom Tiffany approaches to shake Tom Maulson’s hand at the edge of this square of men but it is brief and curt, and he flows to the left and away.

Things are coming together. We hear a prayer in Ojibwe from an LCO school leader. I spy all of the legislators in the pit and 5 are actually keeping their heads bent down the entire time in intensity and I assume faith and Don Pridemore is one of them. Despite my aversion to nearly every statement he has uttered I feel a visceral *ding* of approval for the man for paying respect.

Then Gordon Thayer, Chairman, of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin begins his speech.

He deftly breaks the ice by making us laugh, telling us to look to the person adjacent to us and say, “I’m glad you’re hear” and then say, “And I am sorry about what I said about you last night”. He is very comfortable, looking at notes but looking at us most of the time. He introduces each tribe’s leader and the biggest cheers go up to Mike Wiggins, Jr. the soft spoken leader who has led the defense of the Penokees and the entire watershed beyond it from mining.

He recognized the veterans and asked everybody to remember our men and women in service and their families and to keep them in our prayers and thoughts – and at this point I saw a few legislators nodding.

He moved on to address the problems of prescription drugs such as hydrocodin and heroin and the state of emergency that has been declared at Lac du Flambeau informing us there have been 10 overdoses within the past year. He listed the actions taken to combat this: controls on pharmacy, removing an over-prescribing doctor, a public hearing on 3/30/13.

The Propaganda. DNR. Spearfishing.
(At the 33 minute mark of the video)
Then he moved on to the tension between tribes and Wisconsin’s DNR – which is headed by Cathy Stepp but is really Walker’s DNR.

He was chairman of the LCR in the 80’s.
“I’ve read some inflammatory press clippings lately about our spring spearfishing declaration. It brought me back to the 80’s when tensions ran high from slanted comments in the press…it’s almost like flashbacks. I had numerous calls threatening remarks. Making racial derogatory remarks…the racial. I won’t even repeat them here…”
“The Wisconsin DNR leadership must recognize it is not the 80’s. Spearfishing and treaty-protected rights have ensured a safe harvest for all to enjoy. I say ALL to enjoy.

“It’s a sad commentary when political propaganda appears in the press. Who wants to come to visit Wisconsin when slanted press releases are designed to raise tensions and provoke concern among sportsmen about our very own resources. It’s time for this propaganda to stop and true leadership through communication must begin. That’s what leadership is.”

We all rose to offer a sustained, standing ovation.

He said it’s been scientifically proven that 100% of tribal quotas take less than 13% of the total fish population in each lake in Northern Wisconsin. “Yet the DNR press releases would have you think that a bag limit is the last step from fish depletion. That is simply not true on two fronts.”

“First the state chose a bag limit so that they could regulate their fisherman. Second the bag limits are adjusted to accomodate the completed tribal harvest. In some years it was before the fishing season goes into full effect. However the DNR announces [in a press release] bag limits is a counter to tribal fish declarations.”

“The fishing season tribal or non-tribal hasn’t even started yet. Yet the DNR is hitting the news circuit with press releases that would have you think that bag limits are about saving the fish in northern Wisconisn. It’s not true.

“This is a political play – that’s how we feel – to embarrass the tribes into harvesting fewer fish. The tribal fish declarations are independent from the bag limits set by DNR. This propaganda parade through the press may sell papers but it can possibly create the tensions we had here in the 1980’s. We don’t want that.”

He credited the Great Lakes Indian Fishing and Wildlife Commission for actively protecting and enhancing the natural resources and habitat of the treaty ceded territories.

Chairman Thayer called on all to, “propaganda not-withstanding”, continue to work alongside the DNR to ensure that all residents of Wisconsin enjoy the bounty of the North.
“Let us at least agree to a peaceful fishing season and no political violence and racial tensions. We’re all tired of that.”

Mines
“Another sticky spot is mining.”

“Much has been said on both sides of this important issue but none has involved open and honest dialog between the tribes and the state.”

Over and over again in his speech, Chairman Thayer called for better communication between ll parties present. He did so again.

“Make no mistake the eleven tribes of Wisconsin opposed the mine and its permitting process. And we stand unified – I say unified – with our relatives at Bad River reservation in protecting the waters.”

He then turned to face Mike Wiggins, Junior leader of the Bad River Band and said,
“Mike we stand behind you and your people.”

Water
He then asked the audience how many people drank a glass of water this morning. “Water sustains us. You know, water gives us life and I feel we have to recognize that our state is endowed with a lot of beautiful water. I heard somebody say that you can’t even eat the fish out of some of the lakes around here. That’s a sad time. It purifies us. It’s a gift from the creator. It’s gift to us all.”

Not Just Jobs
“The beauty of our state isn’t just about job production and about interstate highways – we all need ’em. Paved roads. Electrical lines. All of which we have become dependent upon to survive. Rather, our state is known across America for its pristine beauty. From the bluffs of Prairie du Chien to the rock formations of the Wisconsin Dells. THe traditional homeland of the Hochunk. The 136 mile long Peshtigo River that is formed in Forest County to the beautiful Wolf River near the Menomonie Nation and to the wild rice beds that populate NOrther Wisconsin providing food and medicine for our Ojibwe People. …. Again, my point is that we have – I’m hoping that we’re all grabbing what I’m saying is that this pristine valuable – we all share that. We all share that in common.”

The Loss of Wild Rice
Chairman Thayer bemoaned the loss of wild rice from Clam Lake. [At this time he raised his voice.] “Something is happening in our environment that is affecting that crop alone! … This substance of wild rice is indigenous to our people… It’s hard when you don’t have that anymore and you can’t process that. That is at the heart of our community and in our spirit.

(This next line then drew long, sustained, loud, applause.)
“We can not cash in our natural resources for corporate profit.”
“Nor for temporary job creation. It’s not to be traded like some kind of asset or commodity…”

He then quoted Chief Seattle.
“Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every clearing and wood, is holy in the memory and experience of my people. Even those unspeaking stones along the shore are loud with events and memories in the life of my people.”

We need communication. Not outsiders making our laws
“..These are some of the more difficult examples of tribal-state relations but believe me, it’s something we can work through as long as we want to sit down together to work them through.”

“I guess the common theme in some of this is the breakdown in communication….

“So I ask this distinguished body to consider this offer:
When it comes time to make a difficult decision on resources, and policies, that impact us both, that we agree to meet.
Agree to meet.
Sometimes we never agree but we should never let outsiders make our laws for us.”

Next came from the audience:
LOUD APPLAUSE.
WHOOPING.
WHISTLING.

[More after I eat supper.]

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