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New group wants to build relationships as EPA ruling plays

Apr 2, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

A new group formed recently on the Wind River Indian Reservation is looking to advocate for unity in Fremont County.

The Wind River Citizen's Equality Commission is made up of reservation residents who want to provide a forum for cooperation locally. Headed by Stephen FastHorse, the group wants to make information available to all county residents regarding local or state government issues and other topics of interest to the community. Members have been meeting for about three months.

Meet and greet

After the Environmental Protection Agency granted Treatment as a State to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes in December as part of the federal Clean Air Act, FastHorse said American Indians and non-American Indians have reported increased tensions related to the boundaries of the reservation - which includes Riverton according to the EPA ruling.

The EPA has stayed portions of its decision in order to give local governments a chance to discuss jurisdictional implications.

FastHorse said the WRCEC scheduled a "meet and greet" event March 24 at the Wind River Hotel and Casino south of Riverton in order to build a foundation of unity in the county concerning the EPA decision.

"A group of tribal members came together and said this is getting pretty bad," FastHorse said. "There are things going on that shouldn't be going on, and it was affecting our community members."

Participants

Those in attendance at the event included Riverton Police Department chief Mike Broadhead and his Lander counterpart, Jim Carey; Fremont County commissioners Keja Whiteman, Stephanie Kessler and Doug Thompson; Riverton City Council members Mary Ellen Christensen and Kyle Larson; Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness; Dubois Mayor Twila Blakeman; and tribal members Allison Sage and Ronny Oldman.

Maldonado said everyone introduced themselves and shared their topics of interest during the gathering, which also included discussion about topics like healthcare and social issues.

"It's about communication," Maldonado said. "This is about making this place better for children, grandchildren and great grandchildren."

WRCEC mission

Soon after the EPA ruling was made public in December, members of the WRCEC met with Rosa Salamanca of the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service Office to get help forming the group and to find out how to offer education on concerning issues.

The group also plans to create better communication among all levels of government.

Recently, the WRCEC met with the Northern Arapaho Business Council and Warpness to discuss its intentions. Warpness said he relayed during the "candid" conversation that he was supportive of the WRCEC's efforts.

"We're interested in trying to stay apolitical as possible and build positive bridges," Warpness said.

The group's stance on the EPA ruling remains optimistic, according to FastHorse.

"We have our own land, (and) we don't want to go backward to the 1800s," he said. "We want to go forward."

WRCEC's message also stressed the affects of poor community on Fremont County residents.

"It's about relaying honest, truthful information," FastHorse said. "We're here to say we can live above that (decision). There's mutual respect there we can give each other."

More plans

FastHorse said the WRCEC is now working to develop bylaws. He welcomed representation from the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and non-tribal members. He said the group hopes to tackle social related issues and race relations, gain fair and objective media representation and provide transparency. The WRCEC also plans to organize forums where ideas and concerns can be identified and discussed.

The group plans to provide useful information to area city councils and tribal officials, FastHorse continued, adding that the WRCEC is not under direction of any local government organization.

The group already has planned a Social Gathering for Unity, set for 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, April 16 at Riverton City Park. Everyone in the county is invited to attend.

WRCEC meets at 6 p.m. Mondays at the 789 Smoke Shop and Casino Bingo Hall, 10369 Wyoming Highway 789 south of Riverton. Members include Jermaine Bell, Jenni Wildcat, Ron McElroy, Sergio Maldonado, Anthony Oldman, Daniel Oldman, Karen Smith, Danielle FastHorse, Lavina Bell, Lisa Molash, and Aloysious Bell.