The National Indian Gaming Association has promised to fight a proposed bill that would terminate 170,000 acres of the Wind River Reservation and set a dangerous precedent for state expropriation of land throughout Indian country.
The resolution “To Oppose Legislation Terminating Portions of the Wind River Reservation” was adopted unanimously by NIGA’s member tribes attending the association’s annual Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Conference, which took place this year in San Diego during the week of May 11.
The Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming is one of four groups of Arapaho who originally occupied the headwaters of the Arkansas and Platte Rivers, according to the tribe’s website. Culturally, they are Plains Indians, but socially and historically distinct. After signing the Treaty of 1851, the Arapaho and Cheyenne then shared land encompassing one-sixth of Wyoming, one-quarter of Colorado and parts of western Kansas and Nebraska. Later, when the Treaty of 1868 left the Northern Arapaho without a land base, they were placed with the Shoshone in west central Wyoming, on the Wind River Reservation.
In 2008, the Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes applied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for “Treatment as States” status, a provision under the 1970 Clean Air Act that would allow them to monitor air quality on the reservation. Last December, the EPA granted the tribes the status, which includes jurisdiction over the City of Riverton and its residents. The EPA decision did not sit well with the state government or its agencies.
“The State of Wyoming and its Gov. Matt Mead have promised to put forth all resources to fight this EPA decision,” Ronald K. Oldman, Northern Arapaho Business Council co-chair, told the NIGA members.
The state and state Farm Bureau subsequently filed a complaint with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver asking for a review of the EPA decision. Mead also asked the state’s congressional delegates to draft a bill terminating the reservation status of the 170,000 acres, which they did, including Republican Sen. Jon Barrasso, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Oldman said.
“So once again the Northern Arapaho people have come before the NIGA to ask from the bottom of our hearts for your sincere help,” Oldman said. “We also ask that you go home to your home states and ask your congressional delegations to oppose any legislation diminishing our reservation. If they can do it to our reservation they can do it to others.”
NIGA Executive Director Jason Giles reviewed the resolution’s provisions for NIGA’s member tribes. One of the “whereas” clauses notes that the Department of the Interior (DOI) and EPA have recently confirmed the exterior boundaries of the Wind River Reservation of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes are those established by the treaty of 1868. Another asserts that “the State of Wyoming has publicly declared its intention to ignore federal law and the decisions of both the DOI and EPA.” Still another “whereas” clause calls out the United States’ long history “marked by State efforts to extinguish tribal governments entirely or, when that has not been possible, to shrink the sovereign territory and authority of tribes, to take or control tribal resources, and to dominate tribal people.”
According to the resolution, “The National Indian Gaming Association condemns the actions and public statements of the State of Wyoming and the Wyoming Congressional delegation as contrary to federal law, the inherent sovereign rights of Indian tribes, and the basic human right of self-determination.” It urges the DOI and EPA to continue to recognize and defend he Wind River Reservation’s existing boundaries “against attack” by the state of Wyoming or others and federal lawmakers to oppose any legislation to diminish the Wind River Reservation.
The resolution passed quickly without any questions from members.
NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. told the Northern Arapaho leaders that the NIGA executive board and the leadership of Indian country stand with the tribe. “And we’ve also obligated ourselves to come visit your community and stand with you physically. We look forward to doing that and our executive board is excited to stand for tribal sovereignty.”