Menominee leader criticizes Wis. school mascot law

Menominee Nation chairwoman Laurie Bolvin delivers the State of the Tribes address, Feb. 13, 2014, at the state Capitol in Madison. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)
Menominee Nation chairwoman Laurie Bolvin delivers the State of the Tribes address, Feb. 13, 2014, at the state Capitol in Madison. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

MADISON - The leader of the Menominee Tribe spoke to state lawmakers Thursday about issues affecting Native Americans in Wisconsin.

"As tribal nations, we hold a common bond in the fabric of this great state," said Laurie Boivin, chairwoman of the Menominee.

The annual State of the Tribes address is given by a different tribe every year. This year, the Menominee tribe was chosen.

Members are still waiting for a decision from Governor Walker about a proposed off-reservation casino. That project did not come up during the speech, but concerns about Indian mascots were raised.

Boivin told lawmakers that Indian mascots and logos used by Wisconsin schools have a negative social impact on Native Americans.

"Actually promotes discrimination, pupil harassment and stereotyping of our Native American culture and heritage," she said.

Boivin was critical of a new law which makes it more difficult for the state to force a change.

It requires those who dislike a mascot to gather support. That support needs to be equivalent to at least 10 percent of the school's student body.

Local lawmakers who listened to the speech are on both sides of the new law.

"Now it will be impossible, in my way of thinking, to ever change a mascot name at any of the schools. So I think it was a bad move, I'm glad Laurie mentioned it," said State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay.

"I do think that we have a pretty balanced approach," said State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere. "It really doesn't have that kind of concern where you have basically a process that could be triggered by one person, just about anywhere in the state."

Boivin said she wishes the tribes could have worked with legislators from both parties on finding a better approach to the issue.

Before the speech began, it was unknown if Boivin would address the casino her tribe wants to build near Kenosha. She did not bring it up, and after the speech, she explained why.

"I didn't think it was appropriate to bring that up. It's not what the focus of the state of the tribes is supposed to be about," she said.

The tribe wants to partner with Hard Rock International and build an 800-million dollar, off-reservation casino. The project is opposed by the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi tribes.

The fate of the project lies with Governor Walker, and he may not make a decision until the end of this year.

Boivin did not specifically mention the mine that has been proposed in Iron County, a project all tribes oppose.

She did say she hopes the tribes and the state government can work together to resolve current environmental issues.

Boivin just took over as chair of the Menominee on Sunday, replacing Craig Corn.