The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call that the Ho-Chunk Nation needed to diversify its revenue, Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison Executive Director Dan Brown said in a town hall meeting hosted by Madison365.
Also speaking to the long-term effects of the pandemic were Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins and UW Health family physician Dr. Patricia Tellez-Giron.
The session was hosted by Madison365 publisher and CEO Henry Sanders.
Brown said Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison was the first of the nation’s gaming facilities to close in March 2020, and he took some criticism for that decision. It wasn’t long before they all closed, though, putting the nation’s economy at risk.
“The gaming facilities are essentially our tax base,” Brown said. “That’s what provides the funding for all of our programs to help our people. And it was a wake up call for the Ho-Chunk nation, I hope. It kind of exposed the fragility of our internal economy, and that reliance on the gaming dollars. I’m very hopeful going forward that, you know, we’ll look at diversification, better investment (and) just sort of position ourselves better for the next go-round.”
Brown noted that the pandemic had deep cultural effects as well.
“A lot of what we do culturally is very much togetherness, whether it’s a powwow, whether it’s a traditional event, whether it’s a Native American church service, it’s all very close proximity,” he said. “You’re sharing food, you’re literally sharing a spoon if you pass medicine in a circle. It’s had a profound effect on just the ability for that connectedness.”
“Time to totally disrupt it”
Jenkins said closing schools exposed gaps in access and forced a hard look at education systems.
“The old system we had wasn’t working for 70% of the students anyway,” he said. “And so now it’s time to totally disrupt it.”
He said virtual learning exposed gaps in connectivity at home, as well as the potential of different learning styles. While many students struggled in the virtual leraning environment, many actually “accelerated.”
He said that when the district shifted to virtual learning, “parents had to become co teachers. And parents began to have a great appreciation for teachers.”
“They know we do this from our heart”
Tellez-Giron said the pandemic highlighted the importance of creating strong networks of trusted sources of information.
“The fact that with our organizations we have been working with our community for the past almost 30 years, came in our favor,” she said. “For example, the Latino Health Council has been in existence for over 25 years. We have a radio program that we have been doing for 18 years, people know who we are, they trust us, they know that we do this from our heart. So the first time that we jump on the radio to talk to people about (COVID), we had a big audience, we had a lot of calls. We were doing a one hour program, it ended up being almost a three hour program, because people kept on calling and asking very good questions.”
The Madison town hall is one of three scheduled to represent different regions of the state. The Fox Valley town hall took place last week and a Milwaukee event is scheduled for July.