Local tribal leader to give 'State of the Tribes' address


KESHENA - From the economy to the environment, Wisconsin's Native American tribes have concerns about several issues state lawmakers are considering.

Those thoughts will take center stage next Thursday during the annual State of the Tribes speech. The address will be given by a local tribal leader.

"We have a common bond. We both share the state of Wisconsin," said Craig Corn, the chairman of the Menominee.

Corn is set to tell the State Assembly and Senate about the State of the Tribes.

"It's not all negative, and we always try to every year highlight the positives and some of the controversial issues that we face together," he said.

Corn says a draft of his speech has been sent to other tribes for feedback.

He plans to talk about the benefits of communication between Governor Walker and the state's tribal leaders and the tribes' opposition to the proposed iron mine in northern Wisconsin.

Another likely topic is the casino the Menominee wants to build near Kenosha.

"I think it's going to be talked about briefly," said Corn.

The Menominee hopes to partner with Hard Rock International on an $800 million casino, but the project is opposed by the Ho-Chunk and the Potawatomi tribes.

Governor Walker is still deciding whether or not to approve the plans.

During a stop in Green Bay earlier this week, he said he's bringing in an outside consultant to determine the casino's possible economic impact on other tribes and the entire state.

"We're going to try to get to a win-win, but again, we have up to a year and a half," said Walker.

A decision was expected last year, but now it may not come until the end of this year.

Chairman Corn says his request to give this address was not timed to coincide with the push for the casino project. He says his tribe has been asking for the last couple of years to give the speech.

"I look forward to it," he said.

This is the first time the Menominee tribe has been chosen to present the annual State of the Tribes speech.

The first address was given in 2005. Eight other tribes have already led the speech.

"Whoever is giving that address, whichever tribal leader is chosen, is speaking on behalf of all 11 tribes, not on behalf of his or her individual nation," said J P Leary, a professor of First Nations studies at UW-Green Bay.

Leary has attended all but one of the speeches.

"This is part of that government to government communication," he said.

In nine Wisconsin counties, tribal governments and enterprises are the top employer.

Because of this significance to the economy, Leary believes the State of the Tribes address is important for all Wisconsin residents.

"It's important that we have an informed citizenry on these kinds of issues," he said.

"There's a good story to be told," added Corn.

Corn also plans to address the new state law that makes it harder to strip public schools of American Indian mascots. He says there's always an opportunity for the law to be changed.