Today, across the United States, cities, states, and Native nations are celebrating Indigenous People’s Day. However, here in Wisconsin, despite attempts by Native American communities, including youth, to advocate the Wisconsin legislature to recognize Indigenous People’s Day, state leaders continue to choose to ignore its 12 Native nations in favor of honoring a man who desecrated an entire people.
But this should come as no surprise. The state of Wisconsin and the United States have a long history of ignoring and failing its Native communities. Our culture is misunderstood, mocked, and appropriated, our treaties have been broken, the effects of genocide, colonization, and institutionalized racism have left us with few resources, and rarely do policymakers or elected officials even acknowledge these injustices yet alone genuinely engage with tribes and work collaboratively with them to address the barriers Native people face.
The historical and ongoing mistreatment of Native communities for the past 500 has resulted in alarming racial disparities for Native American children and families in Wisconsin:
-41% of Native American children live in poverty compared to 10% of their white peers.
-American Indian youth are almost twice as likely to be arrested than white youth.
-Native Americans in Wisconsin are more likely to die at a younger age than the White population (60.4 years vs 76.6 years).
And similar disparities exist when you examine how Native Americans in Wisconsin are faring when it comes to health, education, child welfare, criminal justice, and so on. The numbers tell us that we’re long overdue in prioritizing the needs of Wisconsin’s Native people.
In 28 days, people in Wisconsin will be casting their votes for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, U.S. Senator, Attorney General, State Treasurer, and for whoever will represent them in the State Assembly and State Senate. And that means, for the next 28 days, candidates will be talking about what’s important and what they will be prioritizing if elected. So how many candidates will be talking about Native communities? How many will be meeting with Native people, and hearing about their concerns? Who will be prioritizing this issues affecting Native communities?
If history is any indication, very few. But that can change—if people like you commit to amplifying the voices and experiences of Wisconsin’s Native American people this election season. Regardless of where you live, whether it be Milwaukee or Ashland or Green Bay or Black River Falls or Madison, we need you to speak up and demand that all candidates be willing and ready to work with Native communities.
Then please, biinjiwebinamaw! Gica! Nvootow! Onapamaew! Mbot! Vote! And vote for candidates that will prioritize the well-being of Native communities. Wisconsin can only be its best when it acknowledges the people who have nourished and cared for this land since time immemorial and it begins working to heal the wounds that have been inflicted on Native communities. Wisconsin’s Indigenous people deserve to be heard, to be respected, and to thrive.
This beautiful state that so many of us love, would not be what it is without my ancestors and their sacrifices. So when you’re casting your vote to make this state a better place, please remember those of us whose families and communities were here long before 1848.