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WI "State of the Tribes" address covers environmental, voting issues

American at a polling booth
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Wisconsin News Connection
American at a polling booth

From environmental issues to voting rights, Wisconsin's 2022 State of the Tribes address tackled a number of issues the state faces this year.

The annual speech, presented Tuesday by Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, gives the state's tribal leaders a chance to highlight both the concerns and achievements of Wisconsin's tribal communities. Among other topics, Holsey spoke out against what she said were efforts to restrict Wisconsinites' voting access.

"Eradicating barriers to political participation for Native Americans would improve socioeconomic status, self-determination, land rights, water rights and health care," she said.

While she never mentioned them specifically, Holsey's comments were a likely nod to more than a dozen voting- and election-administration bills before the Senate on Tuesday. Voting-rights groups say those proposals would limit access to absentee ballots and politicize the state's election system. Republican authors of the bills argue they're essential to securing and streamlining future elections.

Holsey also used the opportunity to raise concerns over a planned reroute of the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline. The reroute would skirt around the tribal lands of the Bad River Band in northern Wisconsin, and cross through the reservation's watershed. Echoing concerns from other tribal leaders, Holsey told lawmakers the project's draft Environmental Impact Statement fails to adequately take into account the potential environmental disruption.

"The pipeline crosses over 280 rivers and streams that flow indirectly into the Great Lakes waters that supply drinking water to over 40 million people," she said.

Supporters of the project see it as an economic boon for the state, attracting roughly 700 new jobs to northern Wisconsin.

In her speech, Holsey also argued in favor of expanding internet access in rural Wisconsin, and highlighted the successes of tribal economic-development initiatives.

Jonah Chester is Wisconsin Public Radio's 2022-2023 Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow embedded in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom. He most recently worked at Public News Service, a national radio news service, where he covered Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. He previously produced the 6 O'Clock News at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he won numerous awards from the Milwaukee Press Club and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for his reporting on issues in Dane County and south-central Wisconsin.
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