Local tribes cut from bill on Indian education

Mar 1, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

As amended, the bill now refers to "tribes of the region" instead.

The Wyoming Senate voted Wednesday to remove specific references to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes from a bill that incorporates American Indian education into public school standards in the state.

State Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, who introduced the amendment to House Bill 76 on Wednesday, said specifying that the public school standards would be developed in cooperation with the tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation excludes other tribal entities with relationship to the state.

His amendment replaced the reference to the specific tribes with the phrase "tribes of the region." It also removed language that indicated the new social studies standards would put "particular emphasis" on the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

Burns said members of other tribes who reside in his part of the state would consider that language "an insult."

"I think this hurts them," he said. "The way the bill is written ... excludes them. And I think that's sending the wrong message."

Burns had brought up the topic Monday when HB76 was heard for the first time in the Senate, pointing to his town's proximity to reservations and tribes based in Montana.

"I think this (amended) bill would serve as an invitation to them," Burns said Wednesday. "Even though they may be headquartered outside the state, they're very close to the state, and I think this would serve as a welcoming gesture to them."

On Monday, State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho have more of an impact on the state than neighboring tribes.

He continued that argument Wednesday.

"History has placed us together in Wyoming," Case said. "It's a history that has made us co-sovereigns. ... We share so much."

Residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation also are citizens of Wyoming, Case continued.

"We share functions with respect to all sorts of government - including education," he said. "I think if we don't respect that history (and) the important role that those two tribes play ... we're making a mistake."

He also noted that American Indian education in Wyoming would not be limited to information about the tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation, even if the standards were created specifically with input from the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho.

"Native people appreciate the culture, the history, the traditions, and the religion of other native people far better than a non-native person can," he said. "They really do respect each other, and they'll be very careful."

Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, opposed Burns's amendment on the basis of logistics, wondering how many tribes the Wyoming Department of Education would have to consult before finalizing its social studies standards.

"At some point it just becomes difficult," Perkins said. "(We're) going to complicate it ... to the point where it doesn't get done."

When Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, called for the voice vote on Wednesday's amendment, he initially determined that the measure had failed. The Senate asked for clarification, however, and when the standing votes were tallied, 16 senators had voted for the amendment.

House Bill 76 passed on third reading Wednesday 27-3.


During discussion Monday, Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, and Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, both said they were opposed to any legislation that impacts the public school curriculum.

In response, Case referred to the educational modules the Wyoming Public Broadcasting Service recently produced - at the behest of the Legislature and with a legislative appropriation - specifically about the history of the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes.

Teachers could use the modules, which are available online, as lesson plans, Case suggested.

"There is less than an hour of total film in those modules," he said. "That might be the extent of this. We're not talking about three hours a week."

HB 76 indicates school districts can decide what methodology or instructional material should be used to teach American Indian history.

The Senate approved the legislation 21-4 on first reading Monday. HB76 was not subject to discussion when it passed on second reading Tuesday.

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