Ho-Chunk legislators listen to tribal member suggestions for redistricting

By Tim Wohlers

The Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature held a videoconference between five of the branch offices last month, so that tribal members could share their concepts for the nation’s new district map.     
The meeting took place April 30, and was open to all Ho-Chunk community members. 
Vice President Doug Greengrass welcomed everyone to the event, and explained the purpose of them meeting. 
“Welcome to the 2018 Ho-Chunk Redistricting Forum,” Greengrass said.  “Tonight is for tribal-member scenario developers to present their proposals to the legislature, and to explain why they have chosen their boundaries.” 
According to Greengrass, the legislature received 17 submissions before the April 13 deadline.  Those who submitted a proposal in time received an opportunity to present their idea. 
Tracy Thundercloud went first. 
“My scenario is based on the original Constitution of the Ho-Chunk Nation,” Thundercloud said.  “And through the original constitution, there were only 11 elected officials.” 
Thundercloud proposed that the Nation have nine districts, instead of the five it has now.  Each district would have one representative on the legislature, except for Areas 1 and 4 – which would have two. 
Although the scenario would result in a greater number of districts than the Nation currently has, the reduction in the legislature would require each of its members to represent more constituents. 
Legislative Attorney Mike Murphy questioned the motives behind Thundercloud’s proposal. 
“Did you have any more rationale,” Murphy asked, “besides just connecting it to the original constitution?” 
Thundercloud maintained that the constitution was his sole focus. 
“No,” Thundercloud said.  “That’s basically it – just the original constitution, with 11 reps.  That’s what I went with, and that’s how I came up with the numbers that I did and the boundaries for the districts.” 
Next to present his idea was Matthew Carriaga, who submitted four scenarios in what he described as a personal effort to provide the legislature with several options. 
“I drafted four different maps,” Carriaga said.  “And the reason I did was because when I saw the newsletter – and saw that we only had two maps – I thought that was rather unfortunate.  So I made it my job to submit as many maps as I could.  That just made sense to me.” 
In two of his proposals, Carriaga called for redrawing the district lines inside Wisconsin. 
Both of the scenarios would expand District 4 and give its members a second representative on the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature, so that each district would have no less than two elected officials representing them.   
“One of my major objectives was (to eliminate) the one rep-one district thing,” Carriaga said.  “I thought that was a bad idea...Every area needs to be represented at the legislative subcommittees, and that’s putting a lot of stress on one individual to appear at every one of those (meetings).” 
The other two scenarios Carriaga presented would result in districts that cross the Wisconsin state border – venturing into Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. 
He said state lines should not factor into Legislature’s decision.  
“We didn’t make up this Wisconsin boundary line,” Carriaga said.  “That was made up by the United States.  Wisconsin was made around our territory.  So why are we subjecting ourselves to that, and limiting ourselves to that boundary?”
Several others agreed with his opinion. 
Tribal member Marlon WhiteEagle asked whether Carriaga’s position in the Ho-Chunk Nation, as the director of Real Estate, played any part in his decision to submit proposals for redistricting. 
“How much did your employment have to do with your interest in submitting these scenarios?” WhiteEagle asked. 
Carriaga said that his job had nothing to do with it, and that his interest was solely as a tribal member. 
District-5 community member Marlene Helgemo submitted three proposals.  While each of them were different, all would leave the legislature at its current size and redraw the district lines in Areas 1 through 4. 
The first proposal would result in new district lines inside of Wisconsin only. 
“It’s probably the most similar to what we have right now,” Helgemo said.  “However, it has its drawbacks in the fact that District 4 would have one legislator – which we feel probably isn’t in the best manner of how we could continue to do business of the Ho-Chunk Nation.” 
Her second proposal would transfer two counties from District 4 in Wisconsin into District 5.  If approved, St. Croix and Pierce County would become part of the ‘at-large’ district. 
“We have some active members there that could vote in District 5 meetings,” Helgemo said.  “We’ve talked to people who live in St. Croix County, and they feel that it would suit them better.  Then they could have a more active participation in the voting that happens at district meetings.” 
Helgemo’s final proposal would reduce the number of districts from five to four.  
Wisconsin would split into three districts – District 1, District 2 and District 3 – while the rest of the states would make up an at-large District 4. 
Each area would have at least three representatives on Legislature. 
“We wanted to make sure that each of the districts have more than one legislator representing them,” Helgemo said.  “That would even out the legislative representatives of the membership of the Ho-Chunk Nation a little better.” 
A former ‘at-large’ resident, Nathaniel Longtail presented the legislature with a five-district scenario. 
He proposed that most of the states now in District 5 join Jackson County, to form the new District 1.   
“Being at-large isn’t really user-friendly,” Longtail said.  “District 1 has to take care of you.  When you call in need of assistance or a different program, or you want to utilize something for the tribe, you have to call the headquarters.  So why not just make them part of District 1?”
The district lines in Longtail’s proposal would cross state boundaries as well – making Minnesota part of District 2, Michigan part of District 5 and several other states part of District 3 or 4. 
However, the total number of legislators would remain the same. 
Presenting the next scenario was tribal member Loa Porter, who proposed that the nation adopt a three-district map. 
District 1 would include the majority of counties inside Wisconsin, and have eight representatives on legislature.  District 2 would be the southern portion of the state and northeastern part of Illinois, and have two representatives.  Meanwhile, District 3 would become the new area at-large. 
Porter said it makes more sense to stick together, rather than divide into small parts. 
“We don’t know how other entities are going to view the Ho-Chunk Nation,” Porter said.  “That’s very important, because we’re going to run into some challenges as a nation – not as districts, but as a nation as a whole.” 
Porter’s proposal would create a 14-member legislature, with each elected official representing an average of 416 tribal members. 
Henrietta Funmaker gave a scenario of four districts with three legislators each.   
District 1 would essentially be the northwestern part of the country; District 2 would be the southwestern part; District 3 would be the southcentral United States; and District 4 would be everything in the eastern time zone, as well as the northern part of Wisconsin and upper peninsula. 
By population, the smallest district would be District 1 with 1399 tribal members.  The largest would be District 4 with 1528 tribal members. 
As a result, the least-populated district and the most-populated district would differ by just 129 residents. 
With equal representation, and such a small difference in total population between the districts, the scenario would result in a deviation of less than ten percent – a limit once set by the Ho-Chunk Nation Trial Court, but later removed by the nation’s Supreme Court. 
Tribal member Bruce La Mere presented two scenarios.  Each would call for 12 legislators spread across five districts. 
In both cases, La Mere proposed that District 3 adopt some of the counties currently in District 1, to even out the population numbers and better accommodate community members in the northern part of Wisconsin who have to travel such a long distance to attend their area meetings. 
“More representation for the north,” La Mere said.  “That’s what I’m representing.” 
After the final presenter, Attorney Murphy thanked everyone for coming to the night’s meeting.  He said that the legislature would consider all options, and have a decision by the end of May.