Tribe President Avoids Dispute in Wisconsin Legislature Address

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The president of a tribe that plans to withhold nearly $1 million from the state over a casino dispute told Wisconsin lawmakers and officials Tuesday that the state will be stronger if tribal leaders and state leaders are “united as allies.”

Stockbridge-Munsee President Shannon Holsey did not refer to the tribe’s threat to withhold gambling payments from the state while delivering the annual State of the Tribes address at the Capitol.

The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe wants Gov. Scott Walker’s administration to block the Ho-Chunk Nation’s plans to expand its Wittenberg casino, which they believe violates Ho-Chunk’s compact with the state and will draw gamblers from the tribe’s own casino 17 miles away. Steven Michels, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, previously said the expansion does not violate the contract between Ho-Chunk and state. The $923,000 payment tribal leaders have said they plan to withhold is due June 30.

In her speech, which was made on behalf of all 11 of the state’s federally recognized tribes, Holsey instead focused on finding common ground with lawmakers and affirming shared goals, including protecting the Great Lakes, battling opioid addiction and expanding broadband access.

“When you take away the fancy titles that each of us holds as elected leaders, we share the title of public servant,” she told an audience that included members of the state Assembly and Senate, state Supreme Court Justices Patience Roggensack and Rebecca Bradley and Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers.

Throughout her speech, she urged lawmakers to use their roles as leaders to include a wider range of people in conversations and understand other sides.

“Unity does not have to mean uniformity,” she said. “It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within everyone. ‘We the people’ means everyone.”

While Holsey applauded Walker for opposing President Donald Trump’s proposal to defund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, she said the state could do more to prevent a mine proposed over the Michigan border that threatens nearby burial sites of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. And while she recognized Walker and state lawmakers for the work they’ve done to combat opioid abuse — a priority of all of state’s tribes, she said, she urged them to work with tribal leaders to expand access to health care, especially for the elderly.

“It still amazes me that the United States is still the only major country not to guarantee health care to all of its people,” she said, which earned a standing ovation only from Democratic lawmakers.

Each year, the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, which includes members from Wisconsin’s 11 tribes, selects one of its members to give the address, which is in its 13th year.

Megan Hakes, a spokeswoman for the Stockbridge-Munsee, said she learned Tuesday that tribal leaders and Walker’s administration have discussed the tribe’s dispute since the tribe notified Walker of its intent to withhold the gambling compact payment on March 6, but no resolution has been reached. The tribe can file a lawsuit against the state if the two sides haven’t reached a resolution within 30 days of notification.

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