Monday, October 20, 2014

A split of governance on the Wind River Reservation.

I'm a member of the bar of the Tribal Court on the Wind River Indian Reservation.  I'm not a member of either tribe but simply allowed to practice law there.  I've had several cases in Tribal Court and I've tried a civil jury trial there, which is a fairly rare occurrence.  Indeed, at the time I tried the case there, I could find no other lawyers who'd ever taken a civil case to a jury trial there, although later I did find one who had tried a civil jury trial before I had.

That's neither here nor there, but it does give me an opinion about events on the Reservation, and its caused me to be worried about the Arapahoe Tribe pulling out of the Joint Business Council.  I wish they hadn't.

For those who don't follow such things, the Wind River Reservation is the home to two sovereign nations, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Araphoe nations.  They share the same reservation and its territorial expanse.

This hasn't always been true.  The Reservation was established, at the request of the Shoshone, in 1868,  The Shoshone under Chief Washakie were allies of the United States and had contributed warriors to campaigns of the Army prior to that, and would do so after that.  The Arapahoes, on the other hand, were allied to the Sioux, but were a very small tribe in numbers.  They fought with the Sioux into the 1870s, but facing a disastrous winter they came to terms with the United States and were allowed on to the Reservation for what was supposed to be a short period of time.  However, the short time became a permanent one, and the Arapahoes have shared the Wind River Reservation since the 1870s.

The two tribes were enemies originally but have lived together since that time, not always on the best of terms.  But in the 20th Century they both came together to create a Joint Business Council to govern the Reservation, which after all is one territorial expanse.  The Joint Business Council was the Tribal Council for purposes of the entire reservation, and was made up of the Shoshone Tribal Council and the Arapahoe Tribal Council.

The Arapahoes just pulled out of the Joint Business Council and have decided to go it more or less alone, although they are taking the position that for certain necessary functions they'll continue to participate.  The Shoshones, which were opposed to their withdrawal, have stated that it isn't possible to withdraw without a vote of a council and therefore the Joint Business Council's role continues on unabated, but without Arapahe representation due to their withdrawal.

There are a lot of governmental functions that this might impact. The Court, for one thing, is a joint court.  There's more or less one system of law, although a few years ago the Arapahoe's drafted an Arapahoe business code.  There are all the functions of local governments that would normally exist, as well as social agencies that need to function.  There's a lot of oil and gas activity on the Reservation, and this needs to be regulated. There's an office that secures employment for Tribal members of both Tribes with those outside employers doing business on the Reservation.  This is a bad development.

What brought this about I can't say, and therefore I can't opine on whatever motivated this action.   But I hope the rift repairs or the decision is reconsidered.  In the last few years we've seen oil and gas exploration expand in the area, the Reservation won its long standing legal battle with the State which allowed casinos to be built on the Reservation, and a decision of the EPA seemed to expand  the territory of the Reservation in to the town of Riverton.  There are a lot of decisions that will have to be made jointly.  This would not seem to be a good time in which for this uncertainty and perhaps duplication to develop.


The Casper Star Tribune's editorial for today decries this development, noting much or some of what we've noted here above. 

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