Ned Daniels, Jr., chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi community, delivers the 2020 State of the Tribes address in Madison on Tuesday, Feb. 18. (WisEye.org)
Ned Daniels, Jr., chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi community, delivers the 2020 State of the Tribes address in Madison on Tuesday, Feb. 18. (WisEye.org)

Climate change action also sought by state’s Native American leaders

The 2020 State of the Tribes session ended Tuesday afternoon with a solemn tribute to Rick Hill, a former Oneida Nation chairman and gaming industry leader who passed away in December. A resolution honoring Hill unanimously passed after Ned Daniels, Jr., chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi community, delivered the annual State of the Tribes address.

Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, brought the resolution forward and spoke to Hill’s life accomplishments, which included being active in Oneida politics and embarking on various business ventures. He was also the first chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. Global Gaming Business magazine, a gaming industry trade publication, called Hill “one of the most important players in the early history of Indian gaming.”

“He will be missed, but his legacy will remain strong,” Steineke said.

The resolution served as a touching capstone to an address that delivered bipartisan praise for some efforts but also pleaded for further progress on fighting climate change, human trafficking and the opioid epidemic.

After introductions, Daniels launched into the opioid epidemic, something that disproportionately affects native communities. The American Indian/Alaskan Native demographic suffered the second-highest rate of overdose deaths among all ethnic groups in 2017, according to the federal Indian Health Service.

“It has no regard for age, race, gender or income,” Daniels said of the crisis. He went on to recognize state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, for his recent bill package designed to help fight opioid deaths.

Daniels also dedicated time to speaking on the native community’s ongoing struggles with human trafficking. About 40 percent of women who are victims of sex trafficking are Native Americans, according to a 2015 study by the National Congress of American Indians Poilicy Research Center. A bipartisan group of legislators drafted a bill last year to create a task force on murdered and missing tribal women and girls, drawing thanks from Daniels.

In the 2019 State of the Tribes address, Oneida Nation Chairman Tahassi Hill spoke of the need for more state action on climate change. Daniels echoed the need for legislators to step up.

“There might not be anything more important than ensuring sustainability of our most precious and valuable natural resources for future generations,” Daniels said. 

He added, “It is something that cannot be ignored.”

Among issues unsolved from last year’s address by Hill are ending the use of Native American mascots in public schools and expanding Medicaid. Daniels did not mention either subject in this year’s remarks.

A resolution to ban such mascots, logos and names was struck down at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards last month. And despite the support of the native nations and about 70 percent of Wisconsin residents, Medicaid expansion was rejected by Republicans last year.

Daniels also called on the state to continue expanding rural broadband access and address workforce and housing shortages.