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Tribal leaders blast U.S. Senate draft bill

Apr 3, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The Northern Arapaho Tribe issued a statement calling on "all tribes" to oppose a bill cosponsored by Wyoming's congressional delegation regarding the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The legislation would clarify the reservation boundary, which came under question after the Environmental Protection Agency issued a decision in December approving the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes' application for treatment in a manner similar to a state (TAS) as part of the federal Clean Air Act.

In its decision document, the EPA said the reservation was not diminished by a 1905 Act of Congress that opened certain areas, including the city of Riverton, to homesteading.

Wyoming's congressional delegation disagreed with the ruling in a Wednesday press release that said "the 1905 Act diminished the size of the reservation to the residual area not ceded to the United States."

The draft legislation states that "the boundaries of the (WRIR) shall be the diminished boundaries set forth in Article I of the Act of March 3, 1905."

Tribal response

In its statement, the Northern Arapaho leaders said the bill should "appall and worry Native American people everywhere." The statement says the legislation would eliminate the reservation status of a "significant portion" of tribal homeland.

"It's chilling to see this kind of attack on Indian Country in 2014," Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Darrell O'Neal said.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe has "always" maintained that Riverton is part of the Wind River Indian Reservation, according to Tuesday's press release.

Eastern Shoshone Business Council Chairman Darwin St. Clair said his group shares that stance.

"There is no question that this is Eastern Shoshone homeland since time immemorial," he wrote Wednesday in an e-mail to The Ranger. "Our ancestors have fought for, protected this land and are buried here.

"Furthermore, our position is supported by traditional, historical and archeological facts."

He said the Eastern Shoshone Tribe would be "adamantly opposed" to any legislation that would attempt to diminish or change our boundaries of the reservation.

St. Clair is unclear about the intent of the draft legislation, however. He said he has not had "consultation" with Sen. Enzi, R-Wyo., Sen. Barrasso, R-Wyo., or the State of Wyoming regarding the matter.

"At this time, we do not see any need for special legislation," he said.

In their press release Wednes-day, Wyoming's federal representatives said they provided both tribes with a copy of the proposed legislation last week and asked for any comments or concerns to be communicated by Friday.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe in its statement said it sent a group of representatives to Washington, D.C., last week to "confront" members of the Wyoming delegation about the bill, and about the delegation's "opposition to the tribes' (TAS) application."

"We asked them to reconsider, to open their minds and work with us in good faith," Northern Arapaho Business Councilman Al Addison said, "but they were not interested."

The draft legislation states that the bill would not impact the approval of the tribes' TAS application.

The draft bill also notes that any land added to the WRIR by an Act of Congress after 1905 will still be considered part of the reservation.

Later acts

In its Wednesday press release, Wyoming's congressional delegation explained that much of the land ceded for homesteading in 1905 was not settled by non-Indians.

So, between 1940 and 1975, the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, under authority granted by Congress, issued a series of orders that restored the unsettled ceded land to the reservation, according to the press release.

"The delegation's legislation corrects the EPA's erroneous conclusion that Congress did not diminish the reservation in 1905," the press release states.

"It would clarify that the reservation includes the diminished reserve from 1905, as expanded by subsequent restoration orders. ... It would also provide the citizens of Wyoming with certainty that the State of Wyoming has jurisdiction over the areas not part of the reservation, including the City of Riverton."

The press release says Enzi, Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., "don't want to add to or take away from reservation land. ...

"They just want to keep the borders the same as they have been for decades, the way they were before the EPA's erroneous decision in December attempted to make Riverton part of the reservation."

The Northern Arapaho Tribe says Enzi in particular has "turned his back" on his tribal constituents by cosponsoring the legislation.

O'Neal called Tuesday for "support and prayers" from American Indian people and governments, who "must work together to prevent the loss of any more of our precious homelands."

"If the Wyoming Delegation can do this to us, they can do it to any tribe in the nation," he said.

At the request of the state and tribes, the EPA has stayed portions of its decision in order to let local governments discuss jurisdictional implications of the ruling.

The state is challenging the decision in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, along with Riverton, Fremont County, Devon Energy and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation.

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