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Future of tribal liaisons questioned in committee

Nov 20, 2016 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The future of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal liaison positions with Gov. Matt Mead's office was questioned Tuesday during a meeting of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations in Lander.

With recent budget cuts to state programs and departments, there's a possibility the Joint Appropriations Committee will cut the liaison program, committee members said.

"It's a delicate situation right now. I don't have a lot of faith that the tribal program will stay on," committee chairman Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said. "I'm hopeful that it will. ... It's proven to be a beneficial program."

It would a "very easy thing" for JAC to cut the positions, Case added, and if it did it would be cutting "an entire effort."

Case stressed the liaison positions have been a priority for the select committee, and cutting them brings mixed emotions.

The committee has worked efficiently over the years to put structure into the positions, Rep. Lloyd Larsen said.

Arapaho liaison Sergio Maldonado said that because the tribes have been around for longer than any other governmental group involved in the discussion, a relationship must be maintained. If the liaison positions are cut, Maldonado said the state will cast out a relationship that is sorely needed at this point in time.

"Both parties must communicate, collaborate and work with one another," Maldonado said. "Wyoming has a history of less-than-acceptable relations."

Larsen agreed that the positions are critical in giving the tribes representation at the legislative level.

In the audience, Chesie Lee with the Wyoming Association of Churches, former Arapaho tribal liaison Gary Collins and Jason Baldes from the Wind River Native Advocacy group said they support the liaison program.

"Liaison positions are a way to directly communicate with the governor," Baldes said. "We want to see that continue."

Maldonado criticism

Leslie Shakespeare left his post as the Shoshone liaison recently in order to take a new position as a member of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council. He said the SBC would provide the governor's office with three names of tribal members the governor could choose from to fill his vacancy.

"Now you are the face of the tribal liaison program," Shakespeare said to Maldonado.

Shakespeare also told Maldonado that he "rubbed people the wrong way" because he ran as a Democrat for Wyoming House District 33.

The liaison program is a non-partisan position.

"Your attention will be needed, but there's work for improvement," Shakespeare said.

Case had somewhat similar thoughts about Maldonado but noted that, to him, it came down to personalities, and he doesn't feel Maldonado is fit for the liaison position.

"I don't think this is the right job for you," Case said to Maldonado. "I have to go find a way to (approach the) JAC and say that, despite the negativity, we've got to keep this program alive. ... I don't know how to continue it. I don't want to lose it."

Case told Maldonado he was skeptical of his work as a liaison.

"Yesterday when you spoke to the committee you said you were taking off your liaison badge," he told Maldonado. "But I wonder when you do have your liaison badge on."

Maldonado had addressed the committee on a different issue during the Monday meeting.

Maldonado thanked Case for his bold and frank statements and responded that if they wanted to move forward in a progressive manner then they had to put aside the politics of governmental situations.

Maldonado relayed stories that possibly depict how the community thinks of his serving as a tribal liaison. He said he was called a spy by another tribal member during a meeting regarding education. He thought about that comment for some time, he said, but regardless, he was glad to be of service.

Compliments

The other chairman of the committee Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, commended Maldonado for being the choice of the Arapaho tribe and pointed out that the issues between Case and Maldonado seemed to be personal.

After new members of the JAC are seated by the end of November, Blake said it would be important to communicate to them support for the liaison program.

Last year, the state set aside $200,000 in its budget to fund the liaison positions, including expenses for trainings and travel.

The Legislature recently cut $10,000 from the liaison program for the fiscal year 2017 budget.

When the JAC requested a budget recommendation for the liaison program, the state came up with a $160,000 budget for fiscal year 2018.

Next month, Shakespeare said the JAC plans to discuss funding the position for one year, and JAC members have asked for a report on the progress of the program.

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