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Leaders of 2 Tribes Accuse Lawmakers of Discrimination After Excluding Them from Grant Awards

WPR Story

Lac du Flambeau and Bad River leaders want co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Finance and Gov. Tony Evers to 'rectify this situation'

Editor's Addition to the Story:

The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board voted unanimously to accept the $1,000,000 grant award from the State of Wisconsin Department of Administration, which Chairman Louis Taylor said should arrive to the Tribe at the first of the new year.

The money comes from the gaming revenues paid to the State from all 11 Tribes, and recently, the Joint Committee on Finance (JCF) of the state legislature voted to award the money back to all Tribes excluding Lac du Flambeau and Bad River.

LCO Vice Chairman Tweed Shuman said he was really upset that these Tribes were excluded by the Republican-controlled legislature after they stood up for their sovereignty and their Treaty Rights. He was referring to the assumption that Lac du Flambeau may have been excluded because of their fight with a local township over roads, and Bad River over their opposition to Enbridge.

TGB member Don Carley said the money shouldn’t be held back from these Tribes.

Shuman stated it’s their money, they paid the money in from their gaming revenues just like all the other Tribes.

The following story is from Wisconsin Public Radio, followed by a letter to the JCF from Lac du Flambeau and Bad River.

By Danielle Kaeding

Wisconsin Public Radio

Leaders of the Lac du Flambeau and Bad River Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa say the Legislature’s budget-writing committee discriminated against them after lawmakers voted to withhold tribal grants for the two tribes.

The 2023-25 budget reserved $11 million in tribal gaming revenues as supplemental funds that could be awarded by the Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Finance. The budget created an annual appropriation for tribal grants under the Department of Administration. In September the agency requested that the $11 million be transferred through grants awarded to each of Wisconsin's 11 tribes.

On Oct. 31, the committee voted 8-4 along party lines to award $1 million each in tribal gaming revenues to nine of the state’s 11 tribes with the exception of the Bad River and Lac du Flambeau tribes. All Republicans voted in favor of the motion. A previous motion by Democrats to approve the department’s request failed.

Members of the committee did not comment on the vote during the meeting, or provide a reason why the two tribes were not included.

In a Nov. 13 letter, Lac du Flambeau Tribal President John Johnson, Sr. and Bad River Tribal Chairman Robert Blanchard urged the Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Finance to hold another meeting and award the funds. In a separate letter, they also urged Democratic Gov. Tony Evers "to consider litigation to fix this injustice."

"Stated plainly, the State’s act is discrimination of the highest form and is wrong," the letter reads. "To add insult to injury, the source of the moneys is tribal gaming revenues produced by tribal casinos and paid to the State pursuant to the various gaming compacts."

Wisconsin’s 11 federally recognized tribes have exclusive rights to regulate gaming on Indian lands, and they signed compacts with the state in 1991 and 1992. Those agreements set the regulations and conditions under which tribes can conduct gaming, which includes payments to the state. Gaming revenues are split between the state and tribes, who use the money to support tribal programs.

Leaders of the two tribes said they’ve been left to assume why they weren’t awarded grant money.

Johnson told WPR he believes the committee withheld funds for his tribe due to an ongoing roads dispute with landowners and the town on the tribe’s reservation, as well as the discovery of Native American graves under a church parking lot. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that church officials have agreed to remove one of their buildings on the reservation.

"I know it has to do with our roads here. It has to do with that (building) I got taken down that was covering our burial grounds for our ancestors," Johnson said. "If that's the games that they want to play, I'm pretty appalled at what's going on."

WPR reached out to the committee’s Republican co-chairs Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Mark Born for comment on the letter and the reason why funds weren’t awarded to the two tribes. A spokesperson for Marklein said he had no comment. Born’s office and an Evers’ spokesperson didn’t immediately respond on Tuesday.

The state Legislative Fiscal Bureau said tribal gaming revenues were expected to amount to $60.2 million in the current fiscal year with nearly $33.1 million going to state agency programs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, tribal payments were postponed due to casino closures.

Johnson is asking the state’s nine other tribes to reject the grants or accept the funds under protest for the unequal treatment of Lac du Flambeau and Bad River. He told WPR he’s not trying to burden other tribes.

"I think we should all be standing together," Johnson said.

In the letter, Johnson and Blanchard said the tribes have taken steps in the last few years to protect their natural resources and “jurisdictional integrity” of their reservations. The tribes say their rights and homelands were set aside under the 1837, 1842 and 1854 treaties with the federal government. Johnson told WPR he wants to talk with the committee, saying he would be the first to admit if he acted wrongly.

"But in these cases, like we're having now with our treaty rights and protecting our lands, I'm not wrong," Johnson said. "I should never have to apologize for something like that, that I'm trying to keep intact for future generations of our grandchildren."

The tribes are seeking an explanation as to why they didn’t receive grants by Monday, Nov. 20. If the state doesn’t take action, the letters state Bad River and Lac du Flambeau will explore other options under the law to protect their rights.

Johnson said that may include elevating the issue to President Joe Biden, noting tribes have treaties with the federal government and not the state.

"If nobody's listening to us, maybe we should have a meeting with the President of the United States and say, 'Hey, this is what's going on in Indian Country,'" Johnson said. "'Come take a look at it for yourself and help us solve some of these problems.'"

Letter from LDF President Johnson

Dear Senator Marklein and Senator Born,

On behalf of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (“Bad River”) and the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (“Lac du Flambeau”), we write to you to object to the recent discriminatory act perpetrated against us by the State of Wisconsin (the “State”). On October 31, 2023, the State’s Joint Committee on Finance (“Joint Committee”) held a Section 13.10 Meeting where Department of Administration Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld requested $11,000,000 in fiscal year 2023-24 in order to supplement the Tribal Assistance Grant Program created by 2023 Wisconsin Act 19.

As we are sure you can appreciate, it is no coincidence as to how Secretary Blumenfeld settled on the requested amount of $11,000,000. As you know, Wisconsin is home to 11 federally recognized Indian tribes and her intent was to distribute $1,000,000 to each Wisconsin tribe, as memorialized in Legislative Fiscal Bureau documents. See Memorandum from Bob Lang, Director of Legislative Fiscal Bureau to Members of the Joint Committee on Finance Section 13.10 Meeting. Instead of approving Secretary Blumenfeld’s request, the Joint Committee approved the release of $9,000,000 with the explicit instruction, absent any reasoning or justification, to exclude the Bad River and Lac du Flambeau. Stated plainly, the State’s act is discrimination of the highest form and is wrong. To add insult to injury, the source of the moneys is tribal gaming revenues produced by tribal casinos and paid to the State pursuant to the various gaming compacts.

Without additional information, we are left to assume why the Joint Committee made this decision to deprive our respective tribes of funds that would go towards improving the lives of our Tribal Members, who are also Wisconsin residents. It is extremely difficult to express with words the sacrifices made by our ancestors, who negotiated (under extreme duress) cession treaties with the United States in 1837, 1842, and 1854, to ensure that seven generations from those negotiations their relatives would have permanent homelands, i.e. our present day Indian reservations. Over the last few years, both Bad River and Lac du Flambeau have taken steps to protect the natural resources and jurisdictional integrity of our respective reservations. As sovereign governments and stewards of our lands and waters, our respective tribal governments have taken these steps as any reasonable landowner would. 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.

We urge you in the strongest terms possible to take immediate efforts to rectify this situation. We ask that you hold another meeting of the Joint Committee where Bad River and Lac du Flambeau are each awarded $1,000,000 in Tribal Assistance Grants.

Our Tribal Members, who are also residents of Wisconsin, deserve an explanation as to why they are being singled out for such discriminatory treatment. Please respond in writing to this letter close of business on Monday, November 20, 2023. Additionally, we would welcome a meeting with you and your representatives to discuss this deplorable situation. Lastly, if the State does not rectify this situation to the satisfaction of Bad River and Lac du Flambeau, then each of our respective tribes will be left to explore what remedies under the law we have to protect our rights.

A similar letter was also sent to Governor Tony Evers requesting his help in the matter. LDF President Johnson also sent a letter to the State’s other 9 tribal leaders asking them for support, either by refusing the grant award or to accept it under protest.


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