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Police, school leaders see no signs of added racial tension since EPA

Feb 21, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Tribal representatives have been referring to an increase in perceived "anti-Indian sentiment" locally since the Environmental Protection Agency's disputed opinion in December that Riverton is part of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Local officials say they haven't noticed a change, however.

"We have not seen any of that," Riverton Police Department Capt. C.T. Smith said last week when asked about anti-Indian sentiment. "We are aware that could be a potential, and we're looking at everything from that aspect, but we have not seen any of that."

The Fremont County Sheriff's Office also hasn't seen an increase in racially charged crimes.

Other claims

Tribal officials aren't only worried about police calls, though. In a letter this month requesting a stay of the EPA decision, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Darrell O'Neal said tribal members are encountering increased hostility in public and on the schoolyard. But Riverton High School principal John Griffith said he hasn't seen an uptick in bullying against American Indians this year.

"We have not heard anything," he said.

School administrators have been on the lookout for problems since December, he said, especially after an article circulated on Facebook making false claims about the impacts of the EPA decision.

"That got passed around," Griffith said. "Apparently there was a comment made."

Once he learned about the article, Griffith said he sent an e-mail to school principals and social workers warning them about the misinformation students were reading.

"I said, 'You need to talk to kids and watch their attendance," Griffith said. "But we haven't had anything. ... I have not heard anything negative about students talking about that in the classroom."

Bullying monitored

He pointed out that most of his students grew up in the ethnically diverse Riverton community. He said RHS historically doesn't have a problem with racial tension.

"Those things are not tolerated in the least," Griffith said. "There are very serious consequences for making things racial, because that is not at all what we teach, what we stand for, or what we expect out of our kids."

On the contrary, he said the school embraces the diversity of the community.

"It's important to value that and show respect for that," Griffith said.

He shared statistics to back up his claim that race-related problems have not gone up since the EPA ruling in December.

Every year, Griffith said, students take a survey asking them about instances of bullying on the campus. This year they answered the standard questions during finals week, after the EPA decision was announced. But bullying still was down in general according to Griffith.

"It hasn't fluctuated depending on race," he said.

Specifically, he said the percentage of students who saw bullying before school, in the hallways, in the classroom or at lunch was down this year. More bullying occurred this year online and after school, reportedly, but Griffith said students are reporting that teachers, administrators and other adults are more likely to see conflict early and put a stop to it.

Adults on campus need to be vigilant -- Griffith said only 9 percent of students in general, including 5 percent of American Indian students, will notify a teacher if bullying takes place.

"I think (that) is concerning," Griffith said.

According to the survey, 20 percent of students in general and 23 percent of American Indian students said they never see bullying at RHS.

Ruling challenged

O'Neal requested the EPA delay implementation of portions of its December decision in order to give local governments time to discuss jurisdictional implications of the ruling. The state and the Eastern Shoshone Business Council also asked for a stay, and the Wyoming Attorney General filed an appeal of the ruling in the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court last week.

The EPA on Friday granted a partial stay of its December ruling, which came as part of the agency's approval of a tribal Treatment as a State application through the federal Clean Air Act.