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Tribe declines to give formal testimony on EPA decision

Jan 17, 2014 - From staff reports

Representatives from the Northern Arapaho Tribe say it is inappropriate for them, at this time, to discuss formally a recent ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency that redefined the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

On Dec. 6, the EPA approved an application from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes requesting Treatment as a State through the Clean Air Act. As part of the decision, the EPA ruled that a 1905 Congressional Act opening tribal lands -- including the city of Riverton -- to homesteading did not diminish the Wind River Indian Reservation boundary north of the Wind River.

Under that interpretation, Riverton would be considered part of the reservation.

The Wyoming Legislature's Select Committee on Tribal Relations met Jan. 6 and Jan. 7 in Fort Washakie to discuss the EPA decision, inviting tribal members to join the conversation.

Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Darrell O'Neal Sr. wrote to say he appreciated the invitation, but he said it would be inappropriate for NABC members to provide formal testimony on the matter at this point in time.

"Gov. (Matt) Mead has said he will use all of the state's considerable resources to challenge the decision upholding the status of our boundaries," O'Neal said in his letter. "This puts the matter quickly into the federal courts."

He said discussions about the effect of the EPA ruling should begin among the government officials who will be responsible to implement any changes deemed necessary as a result of the decision.

"Those discussions need time to move forward before formal legislative hearings might be productive," O'Neal said.

Soon after the EPA decision was publicized, O'Neal wrote to Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness to begin a conversation about the meaning of the EPA ruling. Warpness said he was open to discussions.

O'Neal pointed out that questions about law enforcement jurisdiction were resolved at the Wind River Hotel and Casino south of Riverton through "mutual respect and cooperation between the tribe and local government."

"This is the kind of approach we think will resolve concerns about implementation of the EPA ruling," O'Neal said. "State and tribal representatives should remain open to discussions about the EPA ruling and what it means, and does not mean."

He said he would provide copies of reservation boundary analysis by the Department of the Interior and the EPA, which considered the views of all affected governments when determining the status of the 1905 Act area.

The EPA's recent action does not affect the "1953 Act area" from Morton to Boysen Reservoir, including the town of Pavillion.