UW/Native Nations Summit on Environment and Health: A Reflection

By Jacob Merten

While attending the Native Nations Summit this March I learned a substantial amount about the history of tribes in the state of Wisconsin and some of the cultural values each individual tribe has. There has not been a meeting between all of the Wisconsin tribes since 1914 when the University of Wisconsin reached out to bring tribal leaders together; this being the 100th anniversary of that meeting was not lost on me. There was so much respect and gratitude among those attending that all of these leaders could take time out of their busy schedules to discuss how to improve Wisconsin and tribal relations as a whole.

Tribal leaders discussed the political situation in Wisconsin, expressing how everyone should consider not just humans when we vote in elections but anything with two legs, four legs, or that simply lives on this planet. This idea resonated with me; who are we to decide to destroy land when some peoples’ relatives have lived here for 10 to 15 thousand years? Another part of the culture shared that stuck with me was how people from all tribes must speak for the next 7 generations after them; they must leave the Earth as naturally sustainable as possible for children many generations in the future. I think that everyone would benefit from having this mindset and this could lead to better conservation efforts going forwards. Leaders expressed that native cultures are different than many in society but that it is important to understand and respect native people even if you do not agree with some of their ideas. An example of this respect was the work done to have this conference. It will be referenced as an example of great communication in the future and it helped to solidify the partnership that everyone who attended is working to form. The consensus agreed that these conferences are essential to cultivate and maintain partnerships between tribes and the state that will ultimately benefit the people who live here.