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Evergreen degree program suspended on rez

Apr 28, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Evergreen State College has canceled its Reservation-Based Community-Determined program after the Eastern Shoshone Tribe delivered a cease and desist order against the Wind River Development Fund in March.

The Washington college was collaborating with the WRDF in Fort Washakie to offer the bachelor's program on the Wind River Indian Reservation and provide courses in tribal government, law and community tribal leadership.

An orientation, which also gave community-determined credits, was March 13 for those interested in the program. That same day the WRDF received a cease and desist order directing them to suspend the program that would have provided accreditation through Evergreen.

The order said the Eastern Shoshone Business Council was aware WRDF was having the RBCD bachelor's program, and Evergreen went forward with it "without SBC or tribal authorization and have been misrepresented by the WRDF who have falsely claimed to be an authorized educational representative for the tribes."

Lorre Hoffman of the WRDF said Evergreen vice president for academic affairs Michael Zimmerman visited with both tribal councils to explain the higher education accreditation and program. While the Arapaho Business Council had "no issues" with the idea, Hoffman said, the Shoshone tribe was more skeptical.

"The Shoshone Tribal Council has been mislead about what higher education is and how it functions," Hoffman said in an e-mail, "(and) has made some unfortunate mistakes and lost an extremely important educational opportunity for the place-bound individuals of the Wind River Reservation."

A reservation-based program already was being developed by the Higher Education Steering Committee made up of tribal members from the reservation.

The program is counting on collaboration from Central Wyoming College and the University of Wyoming, said committee member Harmony Spoonhunter.

She added that the committee felt like its idea was stolen, and Evergreen and WRDF went ahead with their planning despite not receiving formal approval.

"We told (Zimmerman) we would evaluate the program here on the reservation and in two to three weeks get back to him," Spoonhunter said, adding that during this time, Evergreen and WRDF released advertisements and announced an orientation and press conference.

"The committee was kind of shocked," she said, emphasizing that there was no problem with having the program for reservation residents.

"There was no collaboration with the community or the (Higher Education) Steering Committee or the tribes," Spoonhunter said. "It wasn't the 'what' but the 'how' they went about doing it."

The steering committee's reservation-based program planning first started in 2009 but has stalled because CWC and UW are working out a memorandum of understanding with them, Spoonhunter said. CWC would help kick off a two-year degree for students and UW would help pick up the remaining two years.

Hoffman said the Shoshone tribe only would allow the program if they could set the curriculum and assign the instructors.

The Shoshone tribe maintained their stance and stated they would not fund Eastern Shoshone students who applied to the program. Their order also said the "activities" were being done unethically and illegally and "mocks and harms the tribe's right as sovereign governments and nations to establish and protect the federally recognized ability of the tribes to self-determine, including in educational endeavors."