Environmental Superfund cleanup, education issues and law enforcement top the list of topics that Shoshone-Bannock tribal members will be looking to discuss with candidates at a forum to be held tonight on the reservation.
Seven candidates for various offices ranging from local to federal are expected at a forum to be held with Shoshone-Bannock Tribes members at Shoshone-Bannock Junior-Senior High School in Fort Hall from 6–8 p.m. on Monday October 15. ICTMN Contributor and Political Columnist Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, will moderate the discussion.
“Our biggest issue is our environmental,” said tribal spokesperson Randy’L Teton, referring to cleanup of the FMC Superfund site that lies on and near the reservation. She said that from 50 to 100 people are expected at the town-hall-style forum. Candidates are Nicole LeFavour, running for the Democratic seat in District 21 of the U.S. House of Representatives; Jim Guthrie, Republican, running for the State Senate in District 28; Neil Anderson, Republican vying for the state House of Representatives in District 31; Dave Finkelnberg, Democrat in District 28, seeking an Idaho State Senate seat; Kamren Koompin, Democrat, seeking the District 28 B seat in the State House of Representatives; Karl Anderson, a District 1 Republican running for Bannock County Commissioner, and Steve Herzog, a Democrat from District 28, running for Bannock County Prosecutor.
The tribes are also looking for recognition of its law-enforcement force as “a bona fide agency,” Teton said. Public Law 280, passed a couple of years ago, “states that Idaho state police can come in and have jurisdiction on our land,” she said. “We have our own law enforcement, so we’re trying to work on getting our own law enforcement recognized.”
Also of concern is the teaching of history. Do educators “recognize that the tribe is part of Idaho history, and if so why aren’t we teaching that in the local public schools, such as elementary?” Teton said. “We have a lot of cities that are named after our chief, after our tribal bands, and the big question is, are they letting them know that this city is named after the great chief of the Shoshones?”
Health care is also on the agenda. “We’ll cover Medicaid and how things have changed, and what’s going to happen,” as well as touch on Obamacare, Teton said, asking “general questions, getting a feel on where they stand and what’s their plan of action.”
The most urgent issue, though, is the plan for cleaning up the J.R. Simplot Company Superfund site, spawner of the notorious two-headed trout. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has come out with what it terms a cleanup plan, but the Shoshone have completely different ideas of what cleanup should entail.
“That’s going to be a huge topic with legislators as to whether we have their support in our fight with the EPA,” Teton said. “Because what they want to do pretty much is cover the poisons in the dirt versus the tribe, which wants to come in and clean it up.”
“Basically [we’re] just letting them realize that if they do support us, we’ll be supporting them,” Teton said. With 5,700 tribal members, “we pretty much take up the whole southeastern Idaho region,” she said, and they also work with the other tribes in the state, the Northwestern Band of Shoshone and the Shoshone Paiutes from Duck Valley. “We pretty much all come together as one when it comes to political issues.”
The tribes have been conducting voter outreach this year, “stressing to our people that your vote counts,” Teton said. “I think a lot of people didn’t realize that our vote does count. But our Native Voters Education Committee has been involved in the past two weeks in getting out there and talking to people.”
As candidates become more aware of the voting propensity of the tribes, which take up much of the southeastern part of Idaho, “we’re seeing a lot more of the legislators, the candidates, wanting to come out to the reservation,” Teton said. “I think it’s that they’re seeing a strong presence in Idaho through our economic projects.”
Port Hall has seen a lot of positive change in the past five years, much of it economic, she said. Local politicians are taking note, “and they want to be part of it.”