State files petition protesting reservation border decision

Jan 7, 2014 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The Wyoming Legislature's Select Committee on Tribal Relations facilitated the first public discussion Monday in Fort Washakie on the recent Environmental Protection Agency decision that ruled the city of Riverton to be a part of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Representatives from the EPA were invited but did not attend.

The committee met at the tribal Joint Business Council Chambers for the council's regular meeting.


The committee heard from Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael, who said the state is forwarding a petition to Gina McCarthy and Shawn McGrath of the EPA asking that the ruling be reconsidered. The decision was announced Dec. 9. The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe tribes first applied in 2008 for treatment as a state for purposes of monitoring air quality on the reservation.

Under TAS status, the tribes would have input into air quality in an area a 50-mile radius of the exterior boundaries of the reservation.

Petitions to be considered before the issue goes to the Tenth Circuit Court, Michael said, are due by Feb. 18. Michael, who was accompanied by assistant AG Jeremiah Williamson, also said the petition asks that further implementation of this decision come to a halt.

"EPA's decision depends on a host of faulty factual and legal conclusions," the petition states.

Michael said that the tribes have every right to give input on air quality issues but that the land in question has been under state regulation for several decades.

The petition presents several points to counter the EPA ruling. One complaint is that the EPA gave the tribes years to gather documentation and resources to help in their application process, while the state was given just 30 days to comment. That was extended to 60 days after the state objected. Also, the petition states the EPA purposely misconstrued the 1905 act of Congress under which land for the original Riverton townsite was ceded, or removed, formally from the reservation.

"EPA ignored and distorted the plain language of the 1905 Act to reach a predetermined result," the petition reads. "Moreover, the circumstances both before and after passage of the Act show that Congress intended to diminish the reservation."

Tribes respond

Michael said the 24-page petition would be submitted with 27 affidavits of state and federal agencies explaining how their role in Riverton would change and how people would be affected under the new decision. Immediately after receiving notice of the petition, the Northern Arapaho business council replied to the state's attorney general's office in a letter but not during the meeting.

"We are disappointed with Wyoming's petition," said councilman Dean Goggles. "We have made every effort to cooperate with the state. Instead of cooperating, the state is resorting to scare tactics. The citizens of Wyoming deserve better. This isn't the 1800s."

Chairman Darrell O'Neal said in the letter that the petition was "full of inaccurate statements and completely ignores the doctrine of concurrent jurisdiction."

Darwin St. Clair Jr., chairman of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, referred to the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868 established the reservation. He said more discussions prior to all the EPA decision should have taken place to avoid misinformation.

"But we look forward to working together," he said. "We are

taxpayers, we are citizens, we do vote."

Lack of discussion

Several present reported they found out about the ruling from newspaper headlines instead of the agencies directly. Others in the community wished they had been part of talks to first prepare for the concerns local residents would throw at them.

"Discussions should have been out there before Dec. 19," said Fremont County Commissioners Doug Thompson. "There's a lot of uncertainty... the concern of the people is what affect will this have on (them)."

He requested more information be provided for transparency purposes and so that no one would be taken at a disadvantage.

"It would have been nice if we could of heard something from the EPA," Riverton mayor Ron Warpness said. "There's anxiety going on on both sides, and it's not helping."

Warpness said the Riverton Police Department and the city staff offices are receiving phone calls asking if the tribes are "taking over" or if Riverton residents will no longer have to pay taxes. Others are telling the city they will no longer buy property in Riverton or will reside elsewhere if the city is administered as part of the reservation, Warpness said.

The Eastern Shoshone liaison to the office of Gov. Matt Mead, Sara Robinson, said some tribal members on the reservation say they are being seen as "enemies" since the EPA decision was announced.

"You're not on our side, and you need to step back and look at our side," Robinson said to all attending parties. "We're being put in a difficult position."

She agreed there was a "door of communication" that needed to be opened and she asked about that while meeting with the governor's office.

"There's a lack of understanding, which creates a lot of ignorance," Northern Arapahoe liaison Gary Collins added.

Legislative committee chairman Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, agreed that in the end, despite these issues, all forms of governing bodies on the tribal, state or federal levels could work well together, as they have in the past.

"I know everyone here has a very deep interest of what transpires in the future," said co-chair of the committee, Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, adding that he hoped the EPA would respond to the petition in a timely manner.

Case said he hoped for a fuller development of the issue and encouraged all groups to carry out their discussions accordingly.

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