Wyoming Senator Drafts Bill ‘To Clarify’ Reservation Borders
Wyoming and the tribes who share the Wind River Indian Reservation in the state are still waiting for their day in court to resolve a border dispute on the reservation, but U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has drafted a bill that would do that without the courts. Enzi’s bill seeks “to clarify the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation” by defining them as the borders drawn by a 1905 treaty.
In December, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes status as a state for the purpose of air monitoring. The reservation has air pollution sources on its land, including energy development, and lies downwind of additional pollution sources beyond its borders. With only one air monitor within Wind River’s borders and various health concerns, the tribes want to expand their air monitoring network. In granting the tribes the right to apply for grants to fund monitoring efforts, the EPA had to define the tribes’ jurisdiction. After consultation with the Department of the Interior, the EPA concluded that a 1905 treaty that opened sections of the reservation to white settlement did not diminish the reservation’s borders. According to the EPA, Wind River’s borders encompass the city of Riverton and thousands of acres the state has long considered non-tribal land.
When the EPA announced its decision, Eastern Shoshone Business Council Chairman, Darwin St. Clair Jr., said “most of the Native people have said this is righting a historical wrong and we’ve always owned the land, which I would agree with since we’ve been here since time immemorial.”
But Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said the EPA overstepped its jurisdiction and the state filed an appeal with the 10th Circuit Court, where the case remains stalled. Mistrust among tribal and non-tribal governments about each side’s intentions has grown and the quick state reaction roused racial tensions in Riverton. Grassroots efforts, like a new group made up of reservation residents and called the Wind River Citizen’s Equality Commission, have formed to encourage cooperation among stakeholders in the region.
The state, meanwhile, has pushed ahead efforts to undo EPA’s border decision. During the state’s legislative session this winter, state lawmakers passed a bill appropriating funds to fight EPA’s decision and others like it in the future.
Now, Sen. Enzi’s draft bill attempts to address the issue on a federal level.
Enzi said he does not want to change what he sees as the current borders of Wind River, but rather to define them in order to maintain the status quo.
In response to why the Senator decided not to wait for resolution from the federal court, Enzi’s spokesman Daniel Head said “the EPA and court decision based on EPA actions should not be used to change long-established boundaries. The boundaries were set by Congress a long time ago and they should be set by the elected representatives of the people. The EPA has no business deciding land boundaries, but its action and arguments in court based on those actions could be used for these purposes.”
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