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Tribal leader says pandemic has increased drug abuse

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Native Americans in Wisconsin are struggling to overcome increased drug abuse related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a tribal leader said in the annual State of the Tribes address.

Speaking to Assembly lawmakers at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, Lac du Flambeau President John Johnson Sr. said increased drug abuse has claimed those most vulnerable during the public-health emergency.

“The flow of drugs into the Northwoods has escalated during the pandemic, as mental health, economic and social challenges exert growing pressure on our people and families,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal for a regional mental-health center in northern Wisconsin is “a crucial building block and a foundation of dismantling the scourge of drugs,” Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

Evers has proposed investing more than $150 million in mental health services, including more than $25 million over the next two years for regional crisis centers, training and other services. Republican state lawmakers have stripped hundreds of proposals from the governor’s budget.

Johnson also said tribes continue to contend with harassment and racism as they defend their federal treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather. He specifically noted the harassment of those spearfishing in northern Wisconsin.

Johnson also called on all organizations and schools to retire the use of race-based mascots.

Some schools, parents and members of the public have argued the mascots are a point of pride, but Johnson said no other group would tolerate being portrayed in such a manner.

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