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Northern Wisconsin lawmaker speaks out about racial tensions in Ashland County

Glen Moberg

Wisconsin Public Radio

A northern Wisconsin lawmaker is speaking out about continuing racial tensions between the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the surrounding community.

State Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, said the smoldering tensions ignited when an Ashland County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a 14-year-old boy from the reservation.

On Nov. 8, Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich shot Jason Pero twice in the chest after the eighth grader allegedly lunged at him with a knife.

"The death of Jason Pero is another difficult blow to the community," Bewley said. "(There are) many issues involved, going all the way back to tribal rights, the treaties that have been in place, the moving of native people to reservations, and the generational effect of the poverty that has lingered in northern Wisconsin for a long time now. We have to address this across the board."

Bewley called on the greater Ashland community to examine the history of its relationship with the Bad River Tribe.

"By shining a light on it, we are all able to look at and find those areas where we are responsible and work immediately to affect change," Bewley said.

Another source of tension is the alleged abuse of Native American women while in custody at the Ashland County Jail.

Four women are suing Ashland County, the sheriff and the jail administrator claiming that they were sexually assaulted by Jail Officer Chris Bond, who killed himself Aug. 24, 2016.

"The officer involved in those allegations did commit suicide. All of this are terrible things for the community to face," Bewley said.

The northern Wisconsin lawmaker said there is a need for greater dialogue.

"The native peoples of northern Wisconsin are Wisconsinites. They are people that are with us. They are our neighbors. They are a vibrant strong community. We have neglected to identify the most appropriate ways to have us be a united community and we must do better with that."

St. Croix District Attorney Michael Nieskes has been appointed special prosecutor to investigate Jason's death.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Find more wpr news on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

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