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Lac du Flambeau President Calls for Lawmakers to Tackle Racism in State of the Tribes Address

Wisconsin Eye

Stereotypes, racism, and common misconceptions about Native Americans were a central piece of this year’s State of the Tribes address.

The President of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa gave this year’s the speech in the Wisconsin Assembly Chamber Tuesday afternoon.

“My goal for this address is to create greater understanding of native people, culture, and traditions. To do this we must correct some of the greatest misunderstandings of our people, our culture and our traditions,” said President John Johnson Sr.

Johnson spoke of Native Americans being seen through different lenses and how they lead to stereotypes. He took time to address those stereotypes during the 17th Annual State of the Tribes address.

He talked to the misconceptions around casinos and how tribal governments are funded.  Majority of his speech spoke to natural resources. He explained how his own tribe treats hunting and fishing.

“I was taught we do not take more than we need. I’m teaching my young grandsons right now, in which I’ve already taught my kids also, that spearing- we provide for our elders in our community, single moms, just anybody that can’t get out and do it. If I go take 100 fish, I might keep two or three for our family, the rest go to our community,” said Johnson.

He also used examples of his own experiences in the Northwoods.

“We’re still harassed every year, threatened, sometimes we’re shot at, or even assaulted for harvesting fish other resources to provide for our communities. Even though we restock countless lakes and seek to manage and sustain natural resources for future generations. This behavior stems from ignorance,” said Johnson.

One recent positive change Johnson has seen is the renaming of an offensive lake that was derogatory towards Native women.

He says the tribe was able to work with the lake association to change the name and find a compromise.

“There are people who believe we are less than human. They believe it is acceptable to murder, rape, and abduct native women and girls. This and many other reasons drive our ongoing efforts retire offensive and demeaning names and mascots,” said Johnson.

Johnson called on lawmakers to make cultural education a standard throughout the state.

“This is not a plea for sympathy, rather a call for understanding, acceptance and action towards a more seamless way to co-exist,” said Johnson. “There are deep differences and disrespect that have festered for generations this leads to disdain spreading across the cultures.”

He hopes there’s a day that his grandsons, who joined him in the Assembly chamber, don’t face the same racism as he has faced in his life.

“I’ve had to endure it when I was in school, the service and everything else, but I don’t want to talk to these guys about it because it’s hateful. It’s something we’ve got to fix. I was telling the Governor last night, I said maybe 35 years from now these guys will be sitting round in here, might be a tribal leader and they’re still fighting racism. We should correct that right here and right now and just stop it,” said Johnson.

This was the 17th Annual State of the Tribes address.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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