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Sen. Felzkowski responds to Lac du Flambeau over denied Tribal gaming funds

Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Editor's note: This story was updated 12/12/23 at 10:00 a.m. with President Johnson's response to Sen. Felzkowski.

Last week, the Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to vote again on Tribal Gaming Revenue funds that would have given $1 million each to the Lac du Flambeau and Band River Bands.

It’s the same amount that was given to the 9 other federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin.

But that vote was postponed to give the state lawmakers time to send letters to both of the Tribe’s leaders.

As WXPR previously reported, Lac du Flambeau President John Johnson Sr. sent a letter to the committee co-chairs accusing them of discrimination because of the Tribe’s actions over road disputes.

In January, the Tribe temporarily barricaded access to four roads that are tribal land but give access to private homes of non-tribal members.

There’s been lawsuits and negotiations since then with the latest offer from the Tribe telling the town of Lac du Flambeau to pay nearly $10 million for past trespass damage and yearly fees going forward to keep the roads open.

In the letter Tribal President John Johnson Sr. sent to the JFC co-chairs about the denied Tribal Gaming Revenue funding, he said, in part, “Instead of being respected as reasonable governments taking steps to safeguard their territorial jurisdiction, we are being discriminated against by the State with monies extracted from Indian Country.”

State Sen. Mary Felzkowksi (R-Tomahawk) sent a letter in his response to Johnson's letter to the JFC co-chairs. Felzkowski is on the JFC and the Lac du Flambeau reservation resides in her district.

In the letter, she said she had no issue with wanting to safeguard their territorial jurisdiction.

She did have issue with how the Tribe chose to handle it, saying “you failed to exhaust every possible avenue before taking the drastic and profound measures you took.”

Felzkowski also talked about communication issues between her office and the Tribal President.

When she did talk to him, Felzkowski said Johnson told her everyone else involved “was a bad actor.”

“I can’t speak to that, and that will all be settled in the court of law,” Felzkowksi said in the letter. “But what I do know is this: Good actors don’t give their neighbors 24 hours’ notice that they are barricading them in their homes. Good actors reevaluate their strategies when an elderly veteran is forced to wait 40 minutes for the barricades to be lifted so he can get to the hospital. Good leaders don’t cower to extremists who urge them to set aside reason and harm innocent parties.”

She went on to say that she can’t proclaim either side of the conflict as right or wrong but wants to reset the relationship.

President Johnson responded to Sen. Felzkowski. WXPR received a copy of the letter Monday afternoon.

It reads, in part, "Plainly stated, the decision of the Joint Committee is extremely short sighted, discriminatory, and disrespects the sovereignty and self-determination of the Tribe. Your letter seems to echo this sentiment, implying a punitive response to our legitimate exercise of sovereignty in protecting our lands. Regrettably, this is not the first instance of such treatment by the State of Wisconsin, and we anticipate it won't be the last."

It goes on to detail the reservation history and the ongoing issue with the roads.

"For these reasons and many others related to actions over more than a century, we are going to work to right the wrongs of the past and will no longer tolerate abuse of our people or our land," Johnson said in the letter.

You can view it here.

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