Lt. Gov. Shares Governor's Tribal Initiatives with LCO at College Visit
By Joe Morey
Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes visited the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College on Tuesday, Feb. 26, to have an open discussion with LCO tribal and community leaders. Barnes shared some tribal initiatives included in Governor Evers’ budget proposal he will present on Thursday, Feb. 28.
“To have you as the first African American in that post is very meaningful to a lot of people,” Dr. Russell Swagger, LCO College President, told Barnes as he began the meeting. “We are very honored that you are here.”
LCO Vice Chairman Jason Schlender introduced Barnes.
“This day is a long time in coming. Change has come to the state of Wisconsin,” Schlender stated. “A lot of people here rallied to get out the vote. We believe in Governor Evers and his team and we are thankful that you are here to represent our governor.”
Barnes was elected Lt. Governor of Wisconsin in November of 2018, as the first African American Lt. Gov. in the state’s history and only the second African American to hold any Wisconsin statewide office. He is the son of a teacher and a United Auto Workers member. He grew up in Milwaukee and attended public schools there before graduating from Alabama A&M.
After college he came back to Milwaukee and became a community organizer for the inner-city. In 2012, at age 25, Barnes was elected to the State Assembly and served four years (2 terms).
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here with you today,” Barnes began. “We want to be sure your community is being heard and represented. This is the only way we move forward is if we are all working together, all parts of the state. Thank you LCO for having me.
“Our state hasn’t always been a great partner with Native Americans, but it is our intention to change that. It starts with recognizing your sovereignty, your land and your resources that have been taken away from you. We have to acknowledge the hard truths. We have to recognize the past to move forward. We have to listen to your tribal leaders, and we need to listen to the solutions you come up with because you are the people close to the problems,” Barnes said.
As Barnes introduced several tribal initiatives that Governor Evers would present to the state legislature on Thursday as part of his budget proposal, he told the LCO community we are going to be partners.
“Governor Evers and I recognize the importance of the tribal communities in this state.”
The initiatives include $640,000 to prepare architectural plans for a proposed $8 million youth wellness center to treat opioid addiction around tribal communities. The planned facility would have 36 beds and would be located within one of the tribal communities.
Tribal gaming money would be used to fund the wellness center as well as a $1 million increase in grants for child welfare services for tribes over the next two years. Barnes added the governor and himself don’t believe tribal gaming money should be used for things that don’t impact the tribal communities.
The initiatives also include $585,000 for language revitalization that would go to schools on or near tribal lands to teach tribal heritage language and $1 million for higher education grants for students of tribal colleges over the next two years.
Barnes said there is also an increase of $100,000 to the Native American Tourism Office of Wisconsin (NATOW) and an increase of $435,000 annually to assist with transportation services for tribal elders.
“Today is a new day in Wisconsin,” Barnes said. He told the LCO Community, “I stand side by side with you.”
Barnes added, “We know this will be an uphill battle. The republicans are going to strike down our proposals. Talk to your state leaders. Gov. Evers budget will move all of Wisconsin forward.”
Barnes also said the Governor’s team will be welcoming and inclusive of the tribal communities, “Making sure all voices are heard. We have to show up and recognize each other as partners.”