Native American leaders share State of the Tribes Address

MADISON (WITI) -- Native American leaders from across Wisconsin converged on the state capitol on Tuesday, April 9th for the annual State of the Tribes Address. There was no mistaking the underlying anger over issues like hunting, fishing and mining.

"We cannot cash in our natural resources for corporate profit," said Tribal Chairman Gordon Thayer. "We should never let outsiders make our laws for us."

Thayer is the former Lac Courte Oreilles tribal chairman. He denounced the new mining law, saying it loosens environmental standards and could lead to contaminated water for the Bad River band of indians.

"How many of you had a drink of water today? You guys didn't over on this side?" said Thayer.

"That's already passed, it's widely supported by the public and it's going to create thousands of jobs in northern Wisconsin that they're going to directly benefit from. So I expect at a future day when they come back, they'll say thank you," said Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Thayer outlined another area of tension between the tribes and the state -- reminiscent of the so-called "walleye wars" of the 1980s and 1990s. The Chippewa Tribes say they'll increase the number of walleye they take from the water. That means other fisherman would be limited in what they could catch.

Republicans say they worry about the impact on tourism.

"Anything that would discourage people from using our lakes is bad for everyone, including the Indian tribes," said Vos.

"To say that they're worried about tourism and concerned over our natural resources -- frankly, it's the same tired rhetoric we heard three decades ago about the "walleye wars" and it takes us back to an ugly period of time.  It's unfortunate and I think speaker Vos should recognize that," said Democratic Rep. Chris Larson.

Thayer also repeated throughout the speech that Native Americans should not be viewed as second-class citizens.

"We can't be dismissed as a subgroup of people in Wisconsin," said Thayer.