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Listen to the audio from the event in Black River Falls, Wis. Transcript available at the bottom of the story.

The Ho-Chunk Nation has a bright economic future, ripe with prospects to diversify its economy beyond gaming. That’s if the tribal government more clearly communicates with citizens and opens space for entrepreneurs and private companies to invest in tribal communities, Ho-Chunk officials and citizens said during a Wisconsin Watch event held on May 12. 

“I’d say the sky’s the limit. Because if we do provide the opportunity for a corporation to move, they have that ability, they have that agility to invest,” said Dan Brown, executive manager at Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison and a former Ho-Chunk Nation vice president, who spoke as a Ho-Chunk citizen. “I think we have to have these conversations.”

Bettina Warner, who in April became the tribe’s new economic diversification director, agreed.

“We need to put pressure on the (Ho-Chunk) Legislature to sever ties, establish a business corporation and just start from there,” she said.  “This business corporation just needs to be a self-sustainable, self-reliant entity and not be micromanaged.” 

From left, Anne Thundercloud, owner of Thundercloud Communications, LLC and Wisconsin Watch Investigative Reporter Mario Koran participate in a Wisconsin Watch panel discussion on May 12, 2022, at the Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis. Wisconsin Watch contracted Thundercloud as a consultant to help Koran’s reporting on the Ho-Chunk Nation’s economy. “I thought, if things aren’t going so well, as far as communication between our people and our branches of government…then this is a way that I can work, use my skills to help bridge the gap between the media and also tribal membership, get our stories out there in own voices,” Thundercloud said of her decision to work with Wisconsin Watch. (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)

Marlon WhiteEagle, the tribe’s president, said “it’s about time we take those steps” to separate the Ho-Chunk government from businesses.

The discussion between panelists and about two dozen audience members unfolded at the Wisconsin Watch event “Share your voice: How to build a stronger economy for Ho-Chunk Nation,” at the tribe’s District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis.  

Forrest Funmaker, Ho-Chunk Department of Natural Resources agriculture research and education manager, center in blue shirt, and Bettina Warner, Ho-Chunk Nation economic diversification director, center left, share a laugh at the Wisconsin Watch event “Share your voice: How to build a stronger economy for Ho-Chunk Nation,” on May 12, 2022, at the Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis. (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)
Karen Lincoln Michel, president of Indian Country Today, moderates a discussion about how the Ho-Chunk Nation’s government communicates with its citizens — and how citizens and journalists can ensure that news media accurately reflects Ho-Chunk perspectives. From left are: Michel, Anne Thundercloud, owner of Thundercloud Communications, LLC; and Wisconsin Watch Investigative Reporter Mario Koran. Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle participated in the discussion virtually, appearing on the computer screen. The discussion unfolded during a Wisconsin Watch event on May 12, 2022, at the Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis. (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)
From right, Forrest Funmaker, Ho-Chunk Department of Natural Resources agriculture research and education manager; JoAnn Jones, associate judge for the Ho-Chunk Trial Court and former Ho-Chunk Nation president; and other audience members participate at “Share your voice: How to build a stronger economy for Ho-Chunk Nation,” a discussion Wisconsin Watch held on May 12, 2022, at the Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis. (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)

Sponsored by Wisconsin Humanities, the event offered space for Ho-Chunk citizens to interact with their leaders and share perspectives for future Wisconsin Watch reporting on the Ho-Chunk economy and quality of life issues. The event also explored how citizens and journalists can build trust to ensure that news media accurately reflect Ho-Chunk perspectives.

Moderated by Indian Country Today President Karen Lincoln Michel, a former Wisconsin Watch board member, the discussion unfolded two years after COVID-19’s shutdown of casinos in early 2020 forced mass layoffs and cuts to services. Casino officials say revenue is now eclipsing pre-pandemic levels, but pain from the temporary shutdown still lingers, forcing Ho-Chunk and other tribal nation leaders to confront their economy’s outsized reliance on gaming — a sector that typically generates about 75% of Ho-Chunk revenue, according to WhiteEagle. 

Audience members participate during the Wisconsin Watch event “Share your voice: How to build a stronger economy for Ho-Chunk Nation,” on May 12, 2022, at the Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis. (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)
“I want to build up our corridors going to our casinos with franchises,” said Bettina Warner, the Ho-Chunk Nation’s economic diversification director, right. “We own lots of property with nothing on them, and we’re paying taxes, for just having leases. We need to start building.” She spoke on a panel with Dan Brown, executive manager at Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison and former Ho-Chunk Nation vice president, during a Wisconsin Watch event on May 12, 2022, at the Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis. (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)
JoAnn Jones, associate judge for the Ho-Chunk Trial Court and former Ho-Chunk Nation president, right, speaks from the audience at “Share your voice: How to build a stronger economy for Ho-Chunk Nation,” a discussion Wisconsin Watch held on May 12, 2022, at the Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis. Calling for better communication between the Ho-Chunk government and its citizens about policy developments, Jones said: “Even when we’re having things at General Counsel, we’ve only got five minutes to explain something — these multimillion dollar contracts. And so our people have to know all the information about our tribe. Even culture, even art. That’s why you get plugged in.” (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)
Susan Waukon, a Ho-Chunk Nation citizen and the economic development project administrator of the United South and Eastern Tribes Inc., center right, speaks during “Share your voice: How to build a stronger economy for Ho-Chunk Nation,” on May 12, 2022, at the Ho-Chunk Nation District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wis. (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)

The tribe, which has about 5,500 citizens in Wisconsin, has struggled to diversify its economy since gaming revenue transformed life beginning in the 1980s, but some see promise in developing land held in a federal trust, information technology ventures, federal contracting and boosting entrepreneurship.

Speaking at the Wisconsin event, Warner listed additional ideas for new economic ventures, including large-scale rental properties, truck stops, solar farms and wind turbines, a lithium battery recycling plant or semiconductor manufacturing. She said she would launch a community assessment to seek public input. 

“Every community is different, and we need to know what every tribal member thinks and feels for their own particular area and community,” she said.

Such efforts will only succeed if the tribal government improves communication with citizens, several audience members said. 

“Our people have not gotten the full story of many things, when it comes to government or businesses or financials. All that information needs to get out there,” said JoAnn Jones, associate judge for the Ho-Chunk Nation Trial Court and former Ho-Chunk Nation president. “So communication has to start with people. They have to know what’s going on.”

Audio transcript

Jim Malewitz  00:16

Thanks for coming, everybody. We’ll get started about now, and there might be a couple other people trickling in — there’s some traffic. Thanks so much for spending your time with us tonight. My name is Jim Malewitz,  and I’m the deputy managing editor for Wisconsin Watch. And for folks who haven’t met Wisconsin Watch, we’re a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent news outlet. And our mission is to increase the quality, quantity and understanding of investigative journalism to foster an informed citizenry and democracy. And that’s why we’re here tonight. Wisconsin Watch serves communities across the state. And this event is part of our effort to deliver our reporting directly to those communities. We’re listening to feedback and questions and perspectives. We want that to shape our future reporting. So that’s where you all come in. And because we want to get better job of serving Ho-Chunk Nation citizens. So you’ll hear a little bit about our about our reporting on the Ho-Chunk economy tonight. And you can also pick up a copy of that report at the back table over there. But we’re particularly excited to hear your thoughts and offer you a forum to interact with your leaders. And so, we won’t include anything you say in a story without your permission. But we want to hear your ideas — whether on or off the record for later, so we can do better job of covering the Nation. And so folks will have a chance to ask questions and share thoughts, whether you want to come up to the microphone, or you can share feedback on a form we’ve got back there to discuss the event or share thoughts about what we should cover in the future. And before I hand off the mics to the people that don’t even came to here, I want to thank those who made our reporting and this event possible. And that includes was Wisconsin Humanities, which sponsored the event, which sponsored the event and sponsored previous Wisconsin Watch efforts to connect with communities. And so Wisconsin Humanities strengthens our democracy through educational and cultural programs that build connections and understanding among people of all backgrounds and beliefs throughout the state. A huge thanks, too, to Indian Country Today, which teamed up with the Institute for Nonprofit News and nine newsrooms, including Wisconsin Watch, to examine the state of the economy across Indian Country. And ICT’s insight was crucial to the success of our reporting for this project. And of course, its President, Karen Lincoln Michel, who I’ll formally introduce shortly, has given her time tonight to moderate this discussion. Thanks, too, to Ann Thundercloud (audience cheers) The biggest rockstar here — for providing valuable consulting to Wisconsin Watch’s reporting as well as for her role in organizing this event. And thanks to the Ho-Chunk Nation itself for hosting us in this beautiful space. And thanks to Ho-Chunk officials, Dan Brown, Bettina Warner and President Marlon WhiteEagle for agreeing to participate tonight. And lastly, thanks to Wild Bearies  for providing the delicious food and drinks that we’re going to enjoy. Can we please give all of that a round of applause?  Now for the good stuff. I’ll pass it off to Karen Michele, who’s the president of Indian Country Today. She’s a Ho-Chunk citizen and a nationally noted leader — some might say rockstar, like our own Anne Thundercloud here — in Native American journalism and newsroom diversity. Michele was formally a publisher and editor of Madison Magazine, and served on Wisconsin Watch’s board of directors until June of 2021, including in the role of president. She is a former executive editor of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, Louisiana, and assistant managing editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Before that, she covered state government and politics as the Press-Gazette’s Madison bureau chief. She began her daily newspaper career in Wisconsin as a reporter at the La Crosse Tribune and was a long-time part-owner of the newspaper News From Indian Country, published in northern Wisconsin. And she’s a past president of the Native American Journalists Association. Michel has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and a master’s degree from Marquette University.   Welcome, Karen.  

Karen Lincoln Michel  04:52

Thank you very much, Jim, for that introduction. And thanks to all of you for being here. Before I ask our panelists to introduce themselves, I have just a couple of programming notes. First, we’re gonna get a quick behind the scenes look at Wisconsin Watches reporting, that was done in collaboration with Indian Country Today, which was recently rebranded as ICT, We’ve had this discussion divided into two. So that’s the first part. And we’ll be discussing more broadly things like, you know, probing how Ho-Chunk people and journalists can build trust, for the goal of, you know, to strengthen democracy and ensure that the news media accurately reflects alternative perspectives. Well, they have about 10 minutes of audience Q&A. And then that’s followed by the second panel. And that panel will explore the efforts to diversify the Ho-Chunk economy after the events that happened, due to COVID 19, and the temporary shutdown of the casinos in 2020. And that really showed how — the vulnerabilities that we have, so we’ll follow that with about 20 minutes of Q&A. So now I’d like to have our panelists to tell a little bit more about themselves and in a few sentences. And just as a reminder, there are the two panelists. So on the first panel is Marlon WhiteEagle the Ho-Chunk Nation president, who is joining us remotely. And then also in this first part is going to be Mario Koran, who is the Wisconsin Watch reporter. Mario is there at the table. And then you also have Anne Thundercloud, owner of Anne Thundercloud Communications LLC. So let’s start by asking President Marlon WhiteEagle to just introduce yourselve, and briefly tell us why you chose to be here tonight.

Marlon WhiteEagle  06:53

Hey, good afternoon, or good evening. And I’m President Marlon WhiteEagle here, and I see the effort being put into wanting to spotlight the economic diversification efforts of the Ho-Chunk Nation. And now, I see that Wisconsin Watch had did this reporting wanted to try to capitalize on it in terms of building many kinds of momentum that, you know — because it’s not going to happen by itself, it needs some kind of momentum to move forward. You know, we, the tribes are members of the Ho-Chunk has been, you know, asking for, for some separation of government for probably 20, 30 years now. And, you know, it’s due time that we, you know, take those steps and, you know, that requires some legislation that requires some trust in regards to, you know, cutting the ties of control over, you know, any type of tribal business entity, whether it be individually, or tribal. We’ll

Karen Lincoln Michel  08:17

Thank you very much for that. Mario?

Mario Koran  08:22

Yes. Hi. Thanks, everybody, for coming. My name is Mario Koran. I’m a Wisconsin. I’m a Wisconsin native. I grew up in central Wisconsin. I went to school at the University of Wisconsin, so go Badgers. You hear me? Hello. Trying to project my voice here. Spent some time reporting out west. I reported for place that’s called Voice of San Diego. And the Guardian, the British newspaper. I spent some time in the Bay Area reporting there. Happy to be back in Wisconsin. I’m reporting for Wisconsin Watch investigative reporter. And just to share a little bit about what we do. We are a statewide news agency. So we we have a small team and we have to be fairly choosy about the stories that we do cover. And I’ll get into a little bit more in the next question about why we chose this story and what we hope it accomplishes.

Anne Thundercloud  09:21

Thank you for showing up tonight, really appreciate it. My relatives, every one of you. Not not all, not all of my relatives but we’re getting there. I’m sure a lot of you folks are familiar with me. My parents are… Andrew Thundercloud Jr. And my mother was Heleen Lincoln…and I was a reporter for the Hocak Worak back in the 90s. And I did that for five years, and I really enjoyed journalism and covering issues for the Nation. And then I segued into government work for both the State of Wisconsin and also the Ho-Chunk Nation. And I kind of worked my way up the ladder and doing public relations for our people. And I did that for quite a few years. And I really found my area where I really enjoyed myself and enjoy, like connecting our people with the other communities, and especially the media, and I’m sure we’re gonna get into that a little bit more here. So in 2012, I parted ways with the Nation, and I started my own business. So for 10 years now, I’ve been doing public relations consulting within Indian country, working on behalf of foreign people in building relationships and media relations and a whole slew of other things. Oh, and I cook too.

Karen Lincoln Michel  11:03

Okay, great. Thanks. Thanks, Anne. So let’s get started with our discussion. And I want to start off with a question to Mario. The question is, how does Wisconsin Watch typically decide to consider a news story? And then why did you decide to report on this story in particular? And what would you like readers to have taken away from the reporting that?

Mario Koran  11:32

Sure, so I have a couple of notes on my phone, I’m not distracted, forgive me for looking down. But um, as I mentioned, we’re statewide news agency, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover with a pretty small staff. So we have to be pretty choosy about the stories that we invest in and the stories that we cover. Part of our mission, three-prong mission, protect the vulnerable, illuminate wrongdoing and seek solutions. So people hear Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, they often think that we are investigating problems, and sometimes we do. We like to uncover malfeasance in an effort to protect the public. But that’s not all we do. We, as part of our mission to, to seek solutions, we’ll embark on investigate, excuse me, explanatory stories that we think could explain an important aspect of what makes Wisconsin Wisconsin. And what the story we hope, is part of what we hope accomplishes. Part of part of our the reason that we we jumped on the story now is because of the Indian Country Today collaboration, we thought it was a good opportunity to examine tribal nations in Wisconsin, which play an important role in the state overall. And that’s what we hope non citizens will come away with an understanding of for tribal citizens. Obviously, it was my hope that tribal citizens saw their their views accurately represented in the story, that it wasn’t a narrow-minded, one off sort of effort, that we put effort into understanding, and that we hope that we can come to a jumping off point and have greater conversations, more conversations, because this isn’t just, you know, we put a story out and all of a sudden, you know, some problem is, is solved, right, this takes continue continued conversation, and we just hope that we can be part of that. And I think this is a good, good representation of what we hope to keep accomplished through the conversation. So

Karen Lincoln Michel  13:40

Okay, great. I’m gonna come back to some of the things that you said, but I’m going to move on right now to Anne. And you have the unique perspective in that you cover tribal government and things as a reporter. But just tell us how did you get involved in this project? What kind of role did you play?

Anne Thundercloud  14:00

Well, that’s an interesting question, because I really don’t know how I got it just, yeah, it just kind of came to fruition. Wisconsin Watch contacted me and December of last year. And so they kind of laid out the idea of what they were pursuing. And I liked the idea that they were working in conjunction with Indian Country Today. And I thought, well, if India Country Today is doing it, then we can have our story heard. And at first when we talked about economic diversification as a tribal member, I really didn’t know what to think because I don’t think we have a very diverse economy as far as the money that we bring in. I’m familiar with things other than gaming. But so I as a tribal member, I was interested, because I don’t know if you guys know but I’m a little bit opinionated. And I also want to work in the best interest of my people. And so I thought, well, if things aren’t going so well, as far as communication between our people and our branches of government, which I thought that appeared to me at the time, then this is a way that I can work, use my skills to help bridge the gap between the media and also tribal membership and tribal leadership, get our stories out there from our own voices, and hopefully bring about more conversations, because I do believe this is a very important issue. And it’s, it’s long overdue to have these conversations.

Karen Lincoln Michel  15:37

Myself having been in journalism for many years, I think it’s really rare when mainstream outlets contact a tribal member and try to, you know, get some insights into the community. So I think that was a really good approach. So I do want to ask President WhiteEagle a question about his perspective. But before I get to that, Mario, could you talk a little bit just about how you approached your reporting of this story? And what steps you took, and what challenges you faced?

Mario Koran  16:13

Sure. So this was, you know, I knew going into reporting the story that it would be a sensitive story to report, in part because there’s just simply an over represented over representation of stories about casinos, and about gaming. I think, so this had the risk, this ran the risk of being just this, you know, sort of narrow minded story that we’ve seen 100 times, and people may not want to talk about it. But um, you know, there was, I think, a question at the center of this is what, you know, we saw what happened during the pandemic, so many aspects of our economy were battered. We saw casino doors close and the revenue that was lost in the in the following years. So there were serious implications to that. And there was a bigger, deeper question about what does the economy look like moving forward into the future, beyond gaming. So as I mentioned, it was a sensitive story. And I knew that trust building was going to be an important part of this. Thankfully, we connected with Anne early on,  and Anne helped open doors, help sort of guide our questions with questions that we were asking things that we needed to think about before even approaching people. And I think, you know, the most important element of building trust is listening. So we baked in, we had a lot of time to report the story. And we baked in a lot of time in the conversation, not coming to people with any sort of agenda necessarily on our part other than to ask questions and to listen to what they have to say. I also spent a good amount of time just introducing myself and telling, telling, telling folks like President WhiteEagle, what I what I wanted to accomplish with the story and stating my intentions. Some of the challenges is just to be just to be straightforward. It wasn’t always easy getting people to trust me— even to talk. There were a lot of phone calls that were unreturned, there were a lot of emails that were unreturned. And that’s kind of par for the course, that’s part of my job is as a reporter, to just kind of keep trying, even though people aren’t getting back to me. So it was a lot of persistence. But I think that just keeping a knock on doors, in fact, President WhiteEagle, thanks for being a good sport, because I literally came up to knock on his door, went and he opened it and talked to me, we had a good conversation. So I really appreciate him. You know, letting that trust for this conversation. I think that’s what it took. That’s what it takes as a reporter often, just to keep being persistent, knocking on doors and staying polite. And, you know, thankfully, there was enough, I believe enough folks that were generous with their time and insights through this, to help us fill out an informative story. So that’s a little bit of the process that I thought was.

Karen Lincoln Michel  19:06

Great. Thank you for that. It’s always good to hear a reporter’s perspective because I think people don’t often stop to think about that. The challenges that we face as journalists, we have to ask the tough questions. So we’re going to President WhiteEagle. I said before that you have an interesting perspective, having been a journalist yourself, and were with the Hocak Worak, and you would let go from that position. So just wondering, has your view of journalism changed at all? Now that you’re government official?

Marlon WhiteEagle  19:47

I would say it hasn’t changed. The, I think the political arena is, is a real interesting area. But you know what I told some of my journalism friends like… and other different ones that asked like, you know, you’re president now, how do you? How do you feel like, and I would say, I feel like, you know, I went from being an editor to somewhat of a super editor, where you get to almost control the narrative, in some sense, in regards to, you know, something like this, where, you know, if you want to highlight economic diversification efforts, you know, we can we can start with that conversation and start that discussion. And then, you know, sort of develop the story from from the inside, and what, what, does it take to carry that out?

Karen Lincoln Michel  20:48

Right, and then how do you approach? You know, the journalist when they ask you questions, knowing that you, you were on the other side at one point.

Marlon WhiteEagle  20:58

Yeah, it’s pretty interesting, you know, I get to, you know, first have to know, like, Hey, I was once a journalist, as well, as, you know, whether it’s carrying a camera and for doing a radio interview, or, you know, or even print, you know, I was, I would share as much as I can and kind of give them a backstory, and, you know, sort of edit, edit a lot of thinking along the way. So it was really helpful for me that I could you relate to them and, you know, share, share some of the backstory that the story would come across to them in a positive manner.

Karen Lincoln Michel  21:41

Okay, great. So, you know, we want to have time for questions. I have just a couple of quick follow ups for our panelists before I open it up. And just so, President WhiteEagle was this story at all difficult for you to talk about the economy and some challenges? That the Nation faces?

Marlon WhiteEagle  22:03

Yeah, definitely, there is some, you know, we have to follow the tribal law. And, you know, not everybody knows that tribal law, even some of our tribal lawyers, and, you know, we have, they have to go through and go back and read again, you know, and so that was part of the interesting part, because he wants to be able to tell, you know, so, you know, if we’re talking about $500 million, you can just sort of, you know, if it was $500 million, you know, part of you can over exaggerate the new $500 billion, you know, budget or a $50,000 budget. And so divulging that information is, you know, in Ho-Chunk, tribal law is confidential information. So, it’s, you kind of have been, tread lightly, but you can sort of just spill out that type of information.

Karen Lincoln Michel  23:07

And then before I open it up, I guess the same or other questions that I asked both Anne and Mario, so Anne, what if anything, should should you ask or look for when evaluating whether someone’s voice is accurately presented in a news story? What? And this is just for to tell journalists, if it or excuse me, if a tribal member approached you and asked about, you know, engaging with the journalists or like a journalists had called them? What, what would you tell them? As far as why it’s important to speak up?

Anne Thundercloud  23:57

Thank you for that question. It’s pretty interesting. And it there’s a broad array of things that I could talk about, I guess the first thing is that, why? Why would you pick that story? Why would you? Do you feel that you’re qualified to speak on that issue? Otherwise, are there other people that can contribute that are possibly for well versed in that issue? Also, we have to be considerate of their time. They work with deadlines. If they ask they call you and they want a quote from you, I would say that you the first thing that you would say was, what’s your deadline? When can I get back to you if you’re not ready to speak at that moment? That way you have a little bit more time to get your information together. Make sure that your information is accurate, up to date. When you respond to them. Make sure that it’s very timely, because they do have very busy schedules, and they’re under deadlines a lot of times and so we have to think about what can I do to make your job easier for you. Now, if I’m talking about working as a public relations person, there’s a lot of things that I consider when I work with journalists. And that is making sure again, that everything is accurate, and that I supply the most up to date timely information for them, and cite your sources, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Because my parents and family had always told me that if you don’t know what you’re talking about, you shouldn’t say anything at all. And I think that’s probably something that is an old school teaching that maybe not a lot of people abide by anymore. And so I think that we need to hold true to some of those things. You know, I’m sure you guys heard that before. Yeah. So that’s, you know, that’s another thing too. And so there’s, there’s a lot of things that I would consider telling folks, and if you guys ever are approach, for a story, feel free to give me a call, drop me a message. And I’ll be happy to help you in any way that I can. Because I live for this kind of stuff, I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. And I think it’s important for our voices to tell our stories rather than to be told by somebody else, because those needs are over.

Karen Lincoln Michel  26:29

 Mario, anything to add to that?

Mario Koran  26:32

Yeah, in terms of, you’re trying to make sure that your your views are accurately reported, when a reporter calls you, I think one of the first things that you could do is look that person up and find out the stories that they’ve done before — the kinds of stories that their outlet does, you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly what sort of, you know, if they have sort of a I mean, a bias one way or the other, you’ll be able to tell. And if you know they it looks like a line of credible work, work that seems reputable to you. You can check it out. It seems it seems to be factually accurate, then then I think that’s the first good sign. The second sign, I think, is just being able to speak with that reporter and try to get a feel for what’s the story that you want to tell it’s okay to just speak with the reporter and ask questions and ask about the story that they’re looking into like and said, Why are you asking me why? Why are you doing the story right now? That’s a perfectly fair question. And if the reporter can’t really answer that, then you know, then that might be a sign that they there, they might not be the best journalist for that story, I don’t know, you’d have to make this decision if you want to talk to them or not. But you know, there’s really no way that you’re going to know for sure until that story comes out. And when that story comes out, if it doesn’t reflect accurately what you said, first, you could demand a correction, because that’s the rule. It’s like the journalism law, if we, if we get something wrong in a story, we have to issue a correction. Nobody wants to do that. So we try to make sure that everything’s right, the first time around. But you know, secondly, it comes down to us if we feel like if I if I feel like, or if I burned you in some way, meaning that I didn’t give you a chance to respond to something, I quoted you and something that’s inaccurate or unfair, you’re probably not going to talk to me again in the future. And that’s just the way it works. So you know, it’s in my benefit to make sure that I come back to you and make sure everything’s okay, make sure everything’s accurate, if I’m really a serious journalist about wanting to build trust with you. And so, you know, I think those are just a couple of things to keep in mind. You know, not all journalists are created equal, but, you know, some really are trying to learn and and do the best they can. So

Karen Lincoln Michel  28:48

Those are all good points. Are the main questions from the audience? 

Forrest Funmaker (in audience)  29:01

Is there a context that you’re looking for questions? 

Karen Lincoln Michel  29:05

Just for these panelists who, you know, have been involved in the story that involved the Ho-Chunk, either about that story or just in general. And that news coverage in the past? Sure.

Forrest Funmaker (in audience)  29:23

Yeah, I have a question. One of the things that I’ve noticed within our own newsletter is that we don’t get to this kind of level of reporting that was in this particular story, nor does it have this idea of prediction, or the idea that we’re seeing what is happening, each one of our communities. So how is it that we’re supposed to understand what’s going on in the government? When there’s no real notifications going on. And so I think that creates a lot of these silos or barriers to our people understanding what’s going on with legislation coming down to say, how does this affect me? And so there is no kind of group idea that can we had to be able to make decisions from a tribal membership point of view than to help directly or to make the appropriate decisions on our behalf. So how do we get the better  reporting? At the level at our level, with each one of our communities? And I guess, and wants to take that, or Mario? Or Marlon, that’d be nice. And I don’t think there’s anyone from the staff here. No, I’m sorry. She’s not well, okay. All right. President WhiteEagle, do you want to take that up? 

Marlon WhiteEagle  31:09

Sure. Sure. Could you repeat the question?

Karen Lincoln Michel  31:18

Yeah, it would be how did we get our tribal newsletter? Right? Is that what you said? 

Forrest Funmaker (in audience)  31:25

Yeah, we have the same coalition of investigative reporting

Karen Lincoln Michel  31:31

Yeah, to do investigative reporting, on some tough issues.

Marlon WhiteEagle  31:38

That would be — that’d come right down to the individual, you know, we wouldn’t want to have tribal members, you know, taking interest in in reporting, and then, you know, find, find that the beat that they would want to cover, whether they’re, whether it be tribal government, whether it be, you know, a lawmaking portion, or, you know, the culture, you know, there’s many different types of reporting, that could be done. But one of the things that I’ve seen, you know, for being on the, on the Worak staff is, in regards to, like I was speaking to earlier regarding confidentiality, and, you know, there was a time where I, I had in a wrote, a free press law, and, you know, something I probably could bring up again, and, you know, as President, that would be one thing that we would try to do to get more information out in terms of the type of reporting that, of course, is talking about, but really just, you know, taking the having responsible reporting, you know, like Anne and Mario were talking about, and just, you know, taking that interest, and then, you know, just getting out there and bringing the words on the page, and, you know, getting into print.

Anne Thundercloud  33:10

And I’d like to respond. Well, having worked for the tribal newsletter, many, many years ago, I think it came down to the editor, and the sort of direction that they wanted us to go in, and also growing as a writer and a reporter. There’s a lot of events that people want you to cover, they want you to come to a groundbreaking they want you to come to a ribbon cutting or even cover a conference, and you have to make, you know, a fear sign that you had to make something out of, you know, your assignment. And I sort of got bored with covering events. So I wanted to cover more of the government things that were going on whether there was something that might may have been controversial. I do you recall, there are quite a few stories that I covered that I thought were interesting, because I feel as though at the time that it was like newsletter, like happy, here’s a cake and here’s our picture, and it’s post and I want to see it move more in a direction of something that is hard-hitting interesting things that really affect us. And that those are the things that we need to learn about. And I just kind of came up with them on my own and I went through several editors and remained a reporter. And I just kind of went with my gut and started to try to cover a broader issue rather than just the events that were really required to cover and I thought it was a lot of fun. And then even did commentary and started to review books and movies. Just to add you know, a little bit more entertainment and sort of, you know, shape it more into like your regular newspaper And so that’s what I did back in the day. So I don’t know exactly the… The other thing is, if you have something, one of the things that I found that was very common amongst tribal members is like you think about things way later, like, oh, somebody should write the newsletter. And it’s like, well, yeah, you know, this event was coming up, you should have called them ahead of time, you should supply them with, you know, all the information so that they have all that information in hand so that they’re ready to report on that story. And then another thing that I want to add very quickly, is that I understand that I just spoke with Ardith, our editor. And she told me that she’s very short staffed. So right now it’s her covering all these issues. And unfortunately, she’s she’s not well today, so she wasn’t able to attend. However, she is going to work in conjunction with Wisconsin Watch to use some of their fabulous photography. It’s happening, and also a recording because this is being recorded, and so to report on this story, so that even though they’re not here, that she can, so this conversation will carry further beyond the people that are here in this room.

Karen Lincoln Michel  36:11

It’s really, really great. Going to respond to that. But you have a question. 

Audience member  36:18

Yeah, that’s — Is there going to be a follow up to the story? in six months, or is this just the only story that’s going to be?

Mario Koran  36:35

That’s, that’s a good question. We, you’re we’re always, we always have our eyes on follow up. Because you’re right, in your question. You know, there’s sort of, I don’t even know if this is what you were implying. But if you write one story, and that’s it, and then you never look at it again, I don’t know how much you’re really accomplishing as a journalist, you know, the goal is to keep an informed citizenry. But that takes continued effort, right? So we’re always we have our eyes on follow ups. Even now, I think that there are specific areas of the economy that we could be looking at, and scrutinizing more potential, you know, potential economic boons. So we are looking into that. I don’t want to I don’t want to give away the potential stories. But yeah, we have our eyes on that. Thank you, though, for asking.

Karen Lincoln Michel  37:29

Good questions. And I want to come back just for a minute to the question about tribal newspapers are taking on harder-edged stories. So my master’s program, research was about tribal newspapers. And you know, whether there’s a free press in Indian country. And what I found was that it really depends on the tribal government and their willingness to let their tribal press, ask those tough questions. And then some tribes have provisions that are like, free press provisions in their constitution, which is supposed to protect journalists. But it seems like in certain situations, when there’s controversy, that sometimes doesn’t happen, and that a lot of times that tribal leaders want their own tribal press, to put them in a good light. And, and so that, that’s what my research showed. And so when I became a journalist, I had graduated and got my journalism degree. And one of my first things that I did was, well, actually, when I was at school, I wrote for the Winnebago Indian News on the Winnebago reservation. And I tried to do some more hard-hitting news. And one of the things that I did was I did a story about the —they used to have a tribal landfill, and about the illegal burning and things that were going on out there. And I did a lot of different stories like that, but looking at housing, looking at just different things, and with mixed reviews, but I was determined that I was going to try to make that difference. And and I remember one of my relatives when I left, said I’ll always remember that story you did about the dump. Every time I see smoke coming from the dump, I’ll think about you. That was one my legacies from Winnebago Indians, and then, so to your question about, you know, are there gonna be follow up stories? I think that’s really a great question and that we talked at the beginning about trust, and I think the way that you build trust A journalist is you just show up there, you it’s not like you do one story and then you leave, it’s like, people know that you are interested in what happens on tribal land so that you’re going to be there. So I think that’s a perfect way to end this portion of the discussion. With that, I think it’s to be continued.

Mario Koran  40:24

There’s a good ending. Remember that, but I also want to say to, you know, part of building trust is what I hope that it leads to is emails and phone calls, because those tips are the best stories. Because nobody knows the issues better than you do. So if there are stories that you want to put a bug in my ear, please give me a call. Those are the those are my favorite. So that’s, that’s where I’ll end. 

Karen Lincoln Michel  40:48

Let’s thank our panelists, Anne, Mario and President WhiteEagle. Okay, now we can go on to the next part of the discussion. And I know that President WhiteEagle has to be at in 10 minutes or nine minutes. So we can I guess segue into that. And after the introduction, then I think the first question I will ask…and as a reminder. In this second panel is again, President WhitEagle, and then Bettina Warner, economic diversification director for the Ho-Chunk Nation, and then Dan Brown, who’s the executive manager at Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison, and former Ho-Chunk Nation vice president. And I’m told that he’s appearing here as citizens. So President WhiteEagle did introduce himself earlier. So the Tina and Dan, can you just give a quick introduction of yourself?

Dan Brown  42:12

Okay. Yes, good evening, everyone. Daniel Brown. So most of you probably know, kind of a little bit of who I am. But I’ve been working with the tribe for 29 years, all the while just just a super dedicated mission for me just to raise the standard of living for our people, do whatever I can. And, of course, that’s in the area of gaming. I did serve as vice president for a little bit, can you not hear me? Closer to me, on my voice period. Okay, I was Vice President from 2007 to 2011. Just really interested in this topic, particularly when we’re talking about, you know, advancing the interests of our nation, and, you know, moving the needle for our  people to raise the standard of living. So, thanks for inviting me, this is great to see so many of you. 

Bettina Warner  43:18

My name is Tina Warner. I have a background in various industry sectors. I have done environmental remediation, a little bit of oil and gas, mining, natural resources, conservation work, you name it, I’ve probably done it. I have a master’s in International Business Administration, certified project manager. And I just finished up my cybersecurity program. So I have worked. This is my second time with working with the nation. I have had state jobs, I’ve had public sector jobs, private sector jobs, and DOD jobs. So I’m very diverse.

Karen Lincoln Michel  44:09

So President WhiteEagle, help us understand what the pandemic has meant for the broader economy. So like, ongoing efforts are ongoing effects on the available jobs that are out there and funding for government services. So what do you find  opportunities and government services look like now? Compared to before the pandemic?

Marlon WhiteEagle  44:39

Yes, before the pandemic, we have a we’re really relying on the NPD dollars, that’s a gaming revenue. And that would essentially what would occur is that all the profit, all the revenue sources that gaming side of the house would go into it have what’s called the general fund. And from there, then it’s divvied up in an annual budget each year, we’re just about there for the upcoming fiscal year, fiscal year search July 1 to to June 30. And where we got coming in, we’re, we were up there I would say like you’re pretty top heavy in terms of employment in jobs that were that were there. And in the, with the with the layoffs occurred, then we got to analyze how what’s what’s reasonable for for the amount of the payroll, you know, so, pre pandemic, we were, you know, a per cap, obviously, was our number one expense. And then, after that was our health insurance, then, you know, right after health insurance was our payroll, and, you know, we were our budget was cut, you know, drastically with no income coming in from the gaming side. And so that’s what that’s essentially what led to the layoffs during the COVID pandemic. So, you know, we could have kept everyone on, but that would probably put us in a deeper financial, financial position. So, so I feel like we we navigated through the pandemic in a very responsible manner. And now we’re starting to, you know, we, we’ve increased the budget, probably by, you know, almost 40% of the increase on the annual budget. So, you know, we’re gonna be able to bring back some jobs, and, you know, we’re not, they’re completely, you know, additional weight, you know, some legislation that occurred, we have now we have a cost of living allowance, that that is being calculated into our annual budget. So that is going to add, and payroll expense, you know, so each of the departments that are responsible for making that balance of, you know, what services are they going to offer, and how much public staff do they need. So, you know, they’re the ones they’re the subject matter experts, and, you know, I really trust in rely on the, each of the executive directors to, to make that responsible choice. And then, you know, when, when they feel when they’re not confident in it, you know, that I tried to step in, when, when that’s needed, but it’s very rare that I have to have to step in and help make decisions. But by and large, each of the departments are pretty well aware of what they, how they serve the people and what they need to get done. 

Karen Lincoln Michel  48:15

And you said that you’re still in the process of bringing people back? Are you going to restore all the positions that were there, pre pandemic?

Marlon WhiteEagle  48:28

It was up to me, you know, that’s what we when we go through this budget process, you know, the last few years here, you know, the, the legislature gives us a spending cap, and then our goal is to stay under the spending cap. And that’s kind of what we’ve been doing. So it’s all a matter of, you know, it’s kind of like you’re getting if you’re given an allowance, you know, you have you know, 40 bucks, you go to the movies, you know, are you gonna go to the movies every night? Are you gonna go save it for Friday night? Or, you know, Saturday night when there’s a lot of people are, you know what, you’re gonna have a wunderkind or do you go to $5 Movie Night, you know, on Tuesday night, that’s what those are the considerations that have to be made. And yeah, I kind of got off my thinking there.

Karen Lincoln Michel  49:35

I know you have to leave but do you have time for one question in case someone in the audience has a question for you? Yeah, it’s like, five minutes. Does anyone in the audience have a question for the President, please?  **editor’s note, do to a computer crash, the event lost the connection with President WhitEagle on Zoom**  What is your question in case he comes back while we’re waiting for him to come back, we can move on. And so I wanted to ask a question. 

Audience member  51:13

**Inaudible question from crowd, related to the budget process**

Karen Lincoln Michel  51:57

The question was about the budget process

Audience member  52:01

The budget proces I remember going to legislature was going the gaming facilities with us make sure to figure out exactly how much revenue the price is coming in. And some of the other revenue sources for the tribe, and that’s how can determine with a capital reporting — the spending cap — and that’s how you’re spending. And then that goes to the bigger branch, in judiciary, to get accountants to figure out how they want money, they want you to coordinate spending. Where does the process begin? 

Dan Brown  53:03

Probably, casino revenue projections, that’s where I’ll start.  Well, I’m sorry, business revenue The business revenue. Yeah, we everybody. Well, in the casino standpoint, we all make our revenue projections that are submitted to business and where it goes from there, I assume straight to the president’s office and/or the legislature. 

Karen Lincoln Michel  53:27

Good quesiotn. So getting back to the panel, Dan, I wanted to ask if you could walk us through the temporary shutdown, that is due to COVID-19. And what that meant for casino staffing and operations, and where do the casinos stamp now.

Dan Brown  53:49

Yeah. Somebody mentioned earlier, you know, the whole casino thing is a little bit trite. So I was making very quick about this, we were shut down for two months. And when we started out, before pre pandemic, we were at 300 employees. When we reopen, we’re down for now down to 200 employees. But we recovered quite a bit faster than everybody else. We were we were able to — our vendors were able to provide plexiglass between all the machines. And so we’re able to come to a more utilization far quicker than everybody else. And we had recovered to a point where we’re actually exceeding a pre pandemic revenue, revenue numbers, so we’re doing extremely well.

Karen Lincoln Michel  54:34

And why did you decide to speak to Mario for this story?

Dan Brown  54:39

Well, if it was, for me after the, you know, when we were shut down, there was a it was pretty evident that somebody mentioned earlier for the economic vulnerability of the tribe. And so while the whole intent of having conversations was to stimulate more conversation and discussion in the community about economic development, diversification separating business from government. I’ll just plug real quick my brother’s podcast Ciporoke, you know, that’s an opportunity for us to reach out to, you know, reach out to tribal membership to get them talking about some of these issues. So the reason I wanted to get on the show at all was really just to to pivot and talk more directly about economic  separating business from government, making sure that we have a situation where we have experts taking care of these things. As it is now, I’m concerned that our legislature is in a position for the past 30 years, July 30, well represented the 30th year of our compact, and we’ve done virtually nothing in terms of progressive. And so it’s due in large part, in my opinion, to allowing for our legislature sort of control things. So it’s past time that we get to a position where we’re separating section 17. Putting the businesses under a section 17 corporations so that they can operate efficiently so that we can generate more revenue for our people, again, raise the standard of living. So no, as long winded, but that’s why I want to get on the show.

Karen Lincoln Michel  56:10

To be able to come back to some of the points that you mentioned in there. So, Tina, I understand that you’re newly in your position as chief diversification director

Bettina Warner  56:23

economic diversification director. 

Karen Lincoln Michel  56:26

OK, well, congratulations on your new position. 

Bettina Warner  56:29

Yeah, it’s been several weeks, probably six weeks now. So it’s fairly new.

Karen Lincoln Michel  56:36

So can you tell us more about your position and why it was created and how you plan to approach your new position?

Bettina Warner  56:46

Well, that position was created. Can you hear me? Well, legislators, legislative branch pursued the USDA grant to find alternative economic development endeavors. And the legislature was awarded with a grant. So that’s the creation of my position, economic diversification director. My primary job is to work with economic diversification and development firm to complete a Said’s a comprehensive economic diversification and strategy plan. So we just recently acquired a contractor, a native-owned entity, she came on board this week. So I had my meeting with her yesterday. So it was a pre meeting wasn’t those kickoff meeting, but it was a pre meeting to get to know one another. And ask questions, Scope of Work, work sessions, expectations, so on and so forth. So

Karen Lincoln Michel  58:03

I guess this would be for both of you. What obstacles do you think, have prevented the nation from diversifying up until now? The economy?

Dan Brown  58:20

I mentioned that earlier. It’s it’s structural. It’s systemic. The fact that we continue as people as tribal people continue to think that the legislator has the acumen and the ability to take us into a different direction. And that’s just not the case. You know, they just lacked that kind of wherewithal. And it’s mocking the legislature. It’s not the point of it at all. It’s just the fact that one has to realize, if you look in the mirror and said, I don’t know what I don’t know. And our legislature, I mean, past legislators not just the current but have not had that wherewithal, just to understand we’ve got to do something different. This is, again, it’s 30 years, 30 years July 30. And we’ve done almost nothing in terms of diversifying our economic development development. It’s, it’s totally absent. And it’s really up to us as tribal members to start messaging back to our legislature that we really have to do this and move the needle that we have for right now. If you look at there’s a Harvard paper regarding the different types of corporations, and our section 17 or 12 Clans right now is a perfect opportunity. It completely separate business from government, as was, you know, voted on in 2013. So it’s time to, you know, it’s time for us to move in that direction and legislature just has to put themselves and say I just don’t know, relinquish the businesses to the business allow for efficiency, the 12 or the 12 Clans a section 17 has the wherewithal financially they’ll have leverage available, they’ll be able to take on loans, they’ll incur the debt. They’ll take the risks, as opposed to the government. Every time the government does something and we wind up in debt and everybody’s a little scared to put that gets cut like whatever, we just have to move in a different direction. You know, and it’s past time that we move towards a separation.

Bettina Warner  1:00:10

And I also think that we need to think outside the box. I mean, primarily, our tribal membership has worked for the nation and the nation, that alone. So they have no real world application. And he’s saying section 17. I’m saying section eight, a as well, for diversity for consulting, engineering consulting for firms for cybersecurity consulting firms, industrial services, government services, we can go after multimillion dollar contracts, you know, utilizing the federal government’s funding. So that’s another way of establishing diversity as well. So I’m thinking millions of dollars.

Karen Lincoln Michel  1:00:58

What is it going to take, then to do that?

Bettina Warner  1:01:01

Exactly. So again, a part of it would be related to the sense to provide a regional economic impact survey of our region, see what the trends are, see where we need to go. That’s primarily going to be basically on legislature to start the initial funding. But I mean, for starting an engineering firm, we can go after a professional, professional engineer or PE certified individual to get started or professional geologist, PG certified type of entity and just start going from their civil engineering, environmental engineering, so on and so forth, so just get accredited people in that.

Karen Lincoln Michel  1:01:45

What do you think are the biggest opportunities that are out there?

Bettina Warner  1:01:50

Oh, girl. I have a whole list. So hold on, let me get my list.

JoAnn Jones (in audience)  1:01:57

Before she gets that list, I think the biggest problem right now, when you talk about communication with newspapers. Our people have not gotten the full story of many things, when it comes to government or businesses or financials. All that information needs to get out there. Our leaders are smart, and they know how to make things happen. I know that. Tracy knows that. That’s how we start a multimillion-dollar business. And our people, we used to include everyone. We go to all the areas, and we let them know what’s going on. So communication has to start with people. They have to know what’s going on. Like, even when we’re having things at General Counsel, we’ve only got five minutes to explain something — these multimillion dollar contracts. And so our people have to know all the information about our tribe. Even culture, even art. That’s why you get plugged in. There are so many avenues like this, and the people have to get that information from the president.  So they have to let the people know, somehow, I mean, people still in contact with talking to our legislators, our leaders, who ran on saying we’re going to help our people, our children, our elders, our veterans. We’ve got to let them know what’s going on. 

Dan Brown  1:04:59

I’d like to just comment on that is one of the things I was thinking of is we’re just 30-year anniversary, of our compact’s coming up, you know, Mom, you in that group, that legislating group is deserves a lot of credit for that credit that’s not given. Right. That’s why I’m saying like, is that something you started. You know, that group of elders started, you know, they had a vision. And they took us to a point where a lot of us were on welfare, we were doing well at all,  and raise that standard of living. And we got complacent. We’ve been complacent for two decades. As far as I’m concerned, you guys could remember …called me to tell me one time when I was in office, when y’all built the Phase One over at Dells, he said, you know, tribal membership is how, you know, the hooting and hollering that paid for itself in a matter of three months, I think he said, but we’ve lost that, in my mind in some of our leadership, the absence of a willingness to make hard decisions, make decisions, you know, and go with it. And don’t be afraid you’re gonna, as a matter of this tribe, we all know one another. We know if you make a decision, half of us are going to dislike the decision. And by extension, dislike you. But we have to in order to move the needle, we have to get beyond that we can’t. We’re in a position now. Where I believe it’s critical mass, I think we’re in a spot and we’ve got to move. And if we don’t move now, I don’t know that we ever will. And to your point, yes, we fall terribly short on communication, either branch does. We talk to the president, or I talk to the president periodically, and I keep telling you got a message. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Nobody knows what’s going on. It’s not my job to message from the president’s office. We do what we can on the Ciporoke, just give information out there just, again, to stimulate conversation, because hopefully the tribal members will take that to their area meetings or take it to the legislators or take it to the president’s office, or talk amongst yourselves in the community. So it’s very doable. In my mind, I’m very optimistic that this will get done. But it’s going to take, to your point, mobilizing people, getting on people really concerned about this, the fact that, you know, we’re not growing anymore. We’re not doing much of anything. So I appreciate your comments.

Karen Lincoln Michel  1:07:28

There’s another question here. 

Forrest Funmaker (in audience)  1:07:32

Yeah,I’ve heard there’s a budget that comes in, is produced mainly by gaming, which is probably 93%, of what we take in annually. And I’m wondering, from your perspective, in terms of economic development, how does that work when we need to see those dollars cycle around and each one of our communities? And right now that’s not even happening? What do you propose? Or is it even in your, in your Ciporoke, kind of ness, gift to the communities? What are the businesses? Or what needs to happen? Are we just service industry? Are we manufacturing? Where do we go? Because it seems like nobody has that wherewithal to say, we need manufacturing, we got to get it quick. Because that’s the first to do that, for whatever reason. But I’m wondering, then, as Part B, why is legislature taking this on? And not asking the executive to do this kind of planning, business and all that? Yeah. That seems important, because now you guys are divided in government into two different governments. And they’re fighting against each other for the 93% of the money. And I don’t know from you, do you see danger of expanding and becoming bigger as an entity? And then how would you bring that money back or wants to see this?

Dan Brown  1:09:28

Could you repeat the question? Great stuff. I do appreciate that. Yes, so the short answer is yes, there is we’ve been planning for sort of economic development on the Madison property for about eight years. So economic development, from what I’ve learned is a lot of infrastructure. You know, that’s a big part of that is providing for the land, providing for the opportunities and so when site selectors come in and take a look and say, Yeah, this was like a great place to put our business and be sure that it’s something that ties into what we’re trying to do. So that the whole development blends together. But I will say this much too. I was the chair for Madlab, which is Madison regional economic development. And that’s something in Madison, where there’s a county initiative to bring economic together economic development to those respective communities, because economic development in one community is not a thing anymore, everything’s become so global, it’s incredibly important that we come together as larger communities. And so this eight-county initiative that I’m a part of. I’ve been and I’ve learned a lot, but I was telling you tonight in all honesty, I’m not an economic development expert. But when I talk about section 17, or my sister, you know, having somebody commissioned or or, you know, contracted, we need the outside expertise, we got to quit pretending like we can have somebody do this, in my opinion. And so, you know, to your point, are we going to be able to, you know, be the engine of the economic development? I don’t know that we could, but you know, I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know. And so as I learned with the development of this property, you get expertise, you pay for expertise, so you can do it properly. So that’s kind of so the short answer is yes, we want to see economic development on the Madison property.

Bettina Warner  1:11:23

Back to back to the original question. Okay, so my list for biggest opportunities for diversification. What my intentions are, these are just suggestions for everybody is I want to build up our corridors going to our casinos with franchises, franchises, so our corridors, we own lots of property with nothing on them and we’re paying taxes, for just having leases. We need to start building. So if we develop a multitude of LLCs for franchises, franchises would include like Tires Plus, and O’Reilly’s a NAPA, Caribou Coffee, Chick fil A, Buffalo Wild Wings, Trader Joe’s just start making our own little communities instead of going elsewhere going to Walmart. Their proven systems marketing’s already completed for you, you know what they’re about, as I stated previously, engineering consulting firm AA certified and cybersecurity, and then we can also go into technical services, information technology, medical life sciences, even broadband and that’s part of the EDA grant that I’m working on as well as broadband internet fibers. My emphasis would be renewable energy, solar and wind turbines. I’ve contacted Alliant Energy and discussing the three tariffs that we could utilize with them as well. Electric charging stations you know, electric cars are now becoming popular. I have a couple of friends in Baraboo that bought electric cars that are now going to hybrids because aren’t a new charging stations. They’ve had to get towed since they ran out of juice. A lithium battery recycling plant everything electric cars, all your electronic needs, everything your tools, everything is generated with lithium batteries, made these batteries. If we started recycling, that would put us into a multimillion dollar industry. I was contemplating there’s only several nationally probably five to 10 recycling plants nationwide. So is interested in contacting them and maybe doing a partnership. Logistics, trucking company. That’s an industry wide bottleneck. That’s why we have not a whole lot of supplies on the shelves right now in major retail chains. Just partnering with other companies, other tribes universities do research and development, biotech, robotics, information computer technology, artificial intelligence, AI, automation, semiconductor manufacturing computer chips, why focus on China? We can start doing that. Do something locally, semi truck stops. I mean, putting Loves or whatever it is down in the Dells or wherever. We have people that want to be diesel truck drivers. We have people that want to be diesel truck mechanics. Daycares. Large scale rental properties with businesses underneath. There’s so many things that we can do, we can really diversify. Agriculture. So those are my thoughts. I’m putting this all into a community assessment to get everybody’s input, and see where everybody else because every community is different. And we need to know what every tribal member thinks and feels for their own particular area community. So that’s what I’m working on.

Karen Lincoln Michel  1:15:27

Now, that’s a great list. I can open it up again for some questions. But before that, and how many are really hard stop at 630.

Jim Malewitz  1:15:37

And can probably go over if people want it.

Karen Lincoln Michel  1:15:41

Okay, so what I’d like to do is just pose one more question here, and then open it up to see if anyone else has questions. But that was a really impressive list. And given what we’ve talked about what needs to be done in order to change the way that we look at our economy? Where would you see, if we didn’t have the barriers that we have? And went through some of these businesses, what would the whole tech nation economy look like in five years from now?

Dan Brown  1:16:17

So I believe, in order to get there, once again, the legislature has to relinquish this, you know, that those kinds of any kind of business decisions, you know, we’re not going to go anywhere. Without that, I would first see the, again, I’m gonna quote Twelve Clans real quick here. I know, we’ve had issues in the past, with the past board, there was there was an absence of communication, you know, it was just like, really, there was zero coming our way, we have a new board now. And Susan’s here tonight, she’s a board member, someone who cares deeply for the tribe and moving the needle, and really, really does care about making things better. I feel really good about that. I’ve met Eric Trevan. He’s a PhD, super smart guy, and above reproach. He’s a native from Michigan, are my brother or brother, Joe Brown Thunder, super successful business guy out there in LA. And then a couple others, I think my last or the other is on the board members from, and I bring these these these this thing up, because, you know, he’s an example of a guy from relaxes and forget his name, Joe. But there’s an example, one of so many examples out there in this country, we’re trying to decided to break away business from government and operating under a corporate structure that just has to be emphasized and re emphasized, you know, to our legislators, and help them understand, you just don’t have the wherewithal, you know, we’re never going to move the needle, making the remaining as we are. So our quick answer your question, where do we see us in five years, I say the sky’s the limit. Because if we do provide an opportunity for for a corporation to move, they have that ability, they have the agility to move to invest there, they’re more qualified to invest than our legislators, our trusted investment meets once a month or whatever, and then they have to go back of legislature to, Oh, can we invest? This could be switch over here? That’s ridiculous in the market, you know, in this market, you know, today’s market, you can’t do that, and expect to be making any money. So you’ve had a section 17 people wherever that expertise, my goodness, ithat alone, just our investments will take off, say nothing of development, say for instance, Twelve Clans wanted to take on the Beloit or Madison for development, the Ho-Chunk Nation doesn’t pay a dime, right? I mean, we’ve already invested the 20 million to start things out with with Twelve Clans. Now they leverage that they again, they take on the risks, they take on the debt, and then all of us are going to, you know, eventually we’re going to we’re gonna wind up getting dividends from that tax-free dividends, you know, sort of in lieu of per cap, if you will, but then they’re in business. And so it’s a constant sort of, you know, to answer your question, you know, what he sees for five years, I say, the sky’s the limit, because they’ll have the latitude to just do instead of waiting, you know, a month or every two weeks to talk to a bunch of people who, you know, they just don’t know. So the opportunity is there. We just have to as collectively as tribal members, you know, I think we have to have these conversations. And you know, if it means leaning on the legislators or what, by everyone, by whatever means to influence them to make better decisions. It’s there, it’s it’s within our grasp right now, in my opinion.

Bettina Warner  1:19:37

I agree with Dan. We need to put pressure on legislature to sever times, establish a business corporation and just start from there. I mean, we a business corporation, just need to be is self sustainable self reliant entity and not be micromanage. That’s where we need to go but we need the initial funding to get that started, so I think that’s where we’re going to have a little bit of difficulty because I’m sure legislature is going to do little hands into it but that’s what we need to do we just need several times

Karen Lincoln Michel  1:20:29


Audience member  1:20:30

The $20 million for that Twelve Clans. What have they done so far? 

Dan Brown  1:20:45

Mom, I’m not going to defend that particular board. 

JoAnn Jones (in audience)  1:20:48

You give them that kind of money, and they haven’t done anything. The second part…You’ve got to tie that to the people, like I’ve been seeing and then you’ve got to tie back to our land. I mean, why do you think all white people took all the land? That’s what they’re making their money on? They’ve got homes they become businesses because so here we are, we’ve got language that we’re going to use and then you’re thinking about the welfare of the people. There were time there’s times when our housing model cannot give homes to people who have felonies. They deny them. They’re living in our rentals and that type of thing. So if you’re going to make some money then also we have no houses, our elders … Then have our own laws, out own sovereignty. Then we should use that to build houses for those people that are felons who have children or have elders or tribal members who can’t get housing, because the rents are atrocious out there. Maybe we should aparemtn houses all over, and then we can get rental income and… That’s that’s the kind of ways you got to think.

Audience member  1:24:04

So you talked about that strategic plan. Where do you where do you see that going? What what is going to be in it? Now?

Bettina Warner  1:24:16

What it says, the comprehensive economic diversification strategy plan. What our intentions are, is to do a regional economic analysis for each of our tribal communities. Figure out the social economic demographics aspect of everything of the local municipalities as well along with just the growing trends, what’s needed, how do we sustain ourselves? And what I want to do is incorporate community work groups, get a couple two to four tribal members to help me with this sense assessment that I plan on sending out to the masses and help have discussions. I want to go to each of the community areas and discuss, go a little bit more in depth do a SWOT analysis, get tribal members who inputs on a SWOT analysis, just basically get their perspective and what they think is significant for their community. What’s important to them, like I stated, everything’s different. A Madison community member has a completely different concept to what a Wittenberg resident has. So that’s what I want to do is incorporate the tribal membership to assist on this sets program.

Audience member  1:25:50

And I think Dan touched on infrastructure for the nation. So that piece is huge. And millions of dollars, and there’s grants there for that. So when you do your, your feasibility studies on both different properties that are in a brand, that would then be able to maybe coincide with what type of business would fit within that particular area. We talked about trade secrets, talked about the different trends and trends in the manufacture retail, whatever. So I know that right now, just because I worked for the nation for a number of years. When when we think about building and developing, we do it backwards. So we, for example, this whole area was plotted  for businesses and residential areas. So what happens is people, people will turn people, you know, they pick out a lot and say, I want to put my house there, but there’s no infrastructure. And so what happens is, they’re they’re setting their house on land, they don’t know. And so, so doing any kind of development, whether it’s residential business or whatever, it is basically from the ground up, it made sure that that you’ve got checklist otherwise what was that property by the lake that we took down? 

Dan Brown  1:28:01

Ho-Chunk Lodge. 

Audience member  1:28:03

Ho-Chunk Lodge. And nobody did a study on that. But come to find out that that what was the parking lot the building was was over. What do you want to call it? Nobody surveyed it. on that property, so every the pool was on the property where the boat landing is. In the back there was a stone wall that is over the boundary of the shoreline, you know, and then on the other end, there was another, like a wooden wall was over to the next, underneath. And then the parking lot was on part of the road. So I’m just giving that example to show that they actually, like Dan said, if we don’t put people who are experts and hire people who are experts, in whatever development they’re going to be, we will continue to falter and there will always be so it isn’t. It’s not always the legislators. We were supposed to be hiring people who know this stuf, and are not. Like Dan says. You know, we need subject matter experts. That’s my. I’m done Yeah. The hotel was grandfathered. But once when we tried to get rid of Ho-Chunk Lodge, the grandfather clause expired, and there’s nothing we could do.

Karen Lincoln Michel  1:30:38

There’s went back then and then we can end.

Audience member  1:30:40

And my question is, do you think it’s? Are we hurting ourselves trying to wait for to put land to be in a trust? We’d like to say that we get this corporation whatever seperate government business with this government? Are we going to be hamping ourselves trying to wait for like, all the Dells property that’s still not trusted and not developing that? As separate business? Or do you have to wait for the land to be in trust to develop it? 

Dan Brown  1:31:30

Yeah, I can’t speak for that.

Audience member  1:31:33

I think it depends on what you’re going to develop it for. There is development going to happen? Again, the back to the infrastructure piece. We have the infrastructure, we could obviously turn it into trust for the nation. Yeah, I believe that the best use the property.  A lot of our land has been sitting there 20-plus years. As you said, we got that perfect corridor. Wisconsin Dells, we’ve got Madison, Beloit. A little rant: When people talk about Ho-Chunk Inc., I don’t want to hear it. The nation it is sitting such a great opportunity. One of the biggest players in the state. But again, all these systems we’re talking about that kind of hampered us. Now we’re sitting there where the leaders have to make a decision. 

Bettina Warner  1:33:07

I don’t know if it would be feasible to put our land into trust, because in actuality the federal government would have oversight over our trust lands, if anything were to happen. Like with the past President Trump, he could just say, I want that land back. And he’s able to take it back because under federal oversight, so just FYI, maybe it would be beneficial just to buy land and pay taxes on it. 

Audience member  1:33:47

Well, I represent the creative community. And I just was wondering, Where does the individual Ho-Chunk entrepreneur, whether there’s an artist or a painter, you know, how are the individuals going to fit into your overall plan when it comes to business expertise, if they want to take over a franchise on our corridor?

Bettina Warner  1:34:17

Well, that’s also a question on the assessment as well. There’s a multitude of questions. I will be asking tribal members on where they think certain industries should go, or should we dive into it or not? There’s a creative aspect to it. I was thinking maybe somebody was mentioning some sort of artisan warehouse. I don’t know if that was you, incorporating a bunch of artists into an artsy fartsy section, like Laguna Beach, I’m from San Diego. So Laguna Beach is a artsy fartsy community. It’s really nice. Yeah, exactly. They’re making millions of dollars. 


yep yeah, artsy fartsy.

Audience member  1:35:18

I always thought the Nation should have a Chamber of Commerce. We don’t have anybody marketing and inviting businesses into our Wisconsin And then the other piece is  museums. We have major communities while Madison, too.  Madison, Dells, even Wittenberg could have museums in all of our areas. To let people know that we exist. The world still thinks that Native Americans are extinct. So thank you for making this list. 

Dan Brown  1:36:16

she’s just scribbling

Bettina Warner  1:36:23

My little stick figures No, I think that would be beneficial. I mean, I’ve been to several casinos where they had their museums attached. And I thought that was really nice. It was interesting.

Karen Lincoln Michel  1:36:43

Well, I’d like to say thank you to everybody for your great questions and your participation and for being here. I’d like to thank our panelists for your vision and insights economic outlook for the nation. So if you all give a round of applause for all our candidates. This evening. And thank you for Wisconsin Watch for hosting, this is very important. And I hope that this isn’t the last step continue. So with that said thank you to everyone have a great evening. 

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Jim Malewitz / Wisconsin WatchDeputy Managing Editor

Jim Malewitz joined the Center in 2019 as investigations editor. His role includes editing, managing fellows and interns, facilitating cross-newsroom collaborations and investigative reporting. Jim has worked almost exclusively in nonprofit, public affairs journalism. He most recently reported on the environment for Bridge Magazine in his home state of Michigan, following four years as an energy and investigative reporter for the Texas Tribune. Jim previously covered energy and the environment for Stateline, a nonprofit news service in Washington, D.C. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, POLITICO Magazine and newspapers across the country. Jim majored in political science at Grinnell College in Iowa and holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa. There, he was a founding staff member of the nonprofit Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, where he serves on the board of directors.