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State of Tribes Address James Crawford
James Crawford speaks at the State of Tribes Address on Feb. 23, 2024.

Five takeaways from the 2024 State of the Tribes address

A leader of the Forest County Potawatomi Community addressed health care, Indigenous food access, affordable housing, foster care and human trafficking in the 20th State of the Tribes address.

Chairman James Crawford of the Forest County Potawatomi Community delivered the 20th annual State of the Tribes address Thursday at the Wisconsin State Capitol, highlighting legislative successes and obstacles for Wisconsin’s Indigenous communities. 

The State of the Tribes address started in 2005 as an opportunity for Indigenous communities to bring concerns and insights to the attention of legislators and the state Supreme Court. The Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, which represents Wisconsin’s eleven federally recognized tribes, selects a leader for the address each year.

Here are five takeaways:

Medicaid reimbursements bring additional funding to tribal nations

Crawford praised Gov. Tony Evers’ and the Department of Health Service’s efforts to increase Medicaid reimbursements for tribes and advocated for the continued operation of tribal health centers that serve large populations and are Medicaid-eligible.

“Health care is one of the most important and costly services that tribal governments provide to both their people and the greater community,” Crawford said.

Delays in reimbursements by the federal government previously left tribal health facilities with unnecessary financial strain, according to Crawford. He said some tribal health centers waited years to be reimbursed for services before the centers were eligible to adopt an all-inclusive rate. 

Adopting an all-inclusive rate results in greater overall federal reimbursement, more timely payment for claims and simplified reporting, Crawford said.

Tribal elder food box program helps ensure access to Indigenous foods

Crawford commended the Tribal Elder Food Box Program, which was initiated in a 2021 partnership between numerous tribal governments, as well as Feeding Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin and healthTIDE, a statewide nutrition partnership. 

The program connects tribal nations with Indigenous food and supports sustainable, local producers. It received $3 million in funds in the latest two-year state budget.

“Getting access to that food can be difficult in some cases, especially in the rural areas of our state, and for Natives, ensuring that we have access to conditional Indigenous foods is critical,” Crawford said. 

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Crawford said the program helps tribal elders access traditional foods such as bison, fish, vegetables, wild rice and white corn flour, which are central to Indigenous diets.

Finding employees remains a struggle, in part because of affordable housing

Crawford said finding employees for tribal government and business operations remains a struggle. He noted tribes are the largest employers in many of the counties where they are located but said a lack of affordable housing creates difficult obstacles for hiring.

He commended the Legislature and Evers for a bipartisan package of affordable housing legislation. The five bills aim to increase Wisconsin’s housing stock and expand loan programs to help make housing safer and more affordable.

Evers signed the bills in June.

“Employers around the state are struggling to fill vacant positions and that's especially true for communities in the rural parts of our state,” Crawford said. “It’s difficult to hire a new employee if there is nowhere for them or their family to live in your community.”

Legislation helps provide support for child care providers 

Crawford also referenced legislation on foster care and the adoption system. He recognized Sen. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, and Rep. Pat Snyder, R-Schofield, for bipartisan legislation that expanded financial support and consideration for kinship providers. 

“Because of this legislation, children will be able to be placed more easily with those who already know and love them, and who they know and love in return,” Crawford said, adding “those caregivers will receive needed financial support.”

More resources, support needed to address human trafficking

Lastly, Crawford focused on issues with human trafficking, praising Attorney General Josh Kaul, the state Department of Justice Taskforce on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and state law enforcement agencies for tackling the issue.

“In tribal communities all across the country, including right here in Wisconsin, Native women and girls are being exploited, trafficked and subjected to violence at disproportionately high rates,” Crawford said.

More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women experience violence in their lifetime, including sexual violence for 56.1% of women, according to a 2016 National Institute of Justice study.

Crawford advocated for bipartisan solutions to the issues throughout his address.

“I ask that you don't forget to find the time to set aside your differences and not be afraid to reach across the aisle,” Crawford said. 

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Rachel Hale

Rachel Hale is a senior staff writer who covers state politics and campus events. Before getting involved with The Daily Cardinal, she was a culture editor at Moda Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @rachelleighhale.

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