Since 2005, all 11 tribes have come together to deliver an annual State of the Tribes address before the Wisconsin State Legislature. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2012 State of the Tribes on March 13, 2012. It began with drumming and an outside procession. This was followed by an unofficial smoke break, thanks to the tobacco industry and religious restrictions that made commercial tobacco more common than traditional tobacco in Indian Country. The formal ceremony then took place in the Assembly Chamber. One tribal leader is selected each year to deliver a speech on behalf of all tribes. This year, Jon Greendeer, President of the Ho-Chunk Nation, based in Black River Falls, delivered the speech. Some of the issues he highlighted included:
- Caring for veterans and returned soldiers;
- Being stewards of the land for future generations and protecting against environmental contaminants;
- Tribal governments are often the largest employers in their area and help balance the state budget through gaming tax revenue, employee taxes, and buying power;
- With budget cuts, tribal communities are often the first to feel the effects, especially those physical and mental health concerns;
- The importance of education in alleviating poverty; and
- The need for adequate access to health care.