The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes said they plan to work together to appeal a Tenth Circuit Court ruling made Wednesday declaring that the city of Riverton is not located within reservation boundaries.
A 1905 Act passed by Congress opened up 1.4 million acres of Wind River Reservation land for settlement to non-Indians. Then in 2013, the EPA ruled in an air quality study that the city of Riverton was part of that acreage and rightfully belonged within reservation boundaries.
But this week, two of three federal judges ruled that the federal government intended in 1905 to reduce the size of the reservation through a so-called hybrid approach since most of the lands were sold and they were also released into the public domain.
Northern Arapaho chairman Roy Brown said this hybrid interpretation effectively creates new law.
“I was disappointed and a little surprised that the ruling came down how it did,” said Brown. “We think that we have sort of the law on our side and a lot of precedent and case law that really supports a favorable ruling for us.”
A third judge disagreed, saying that the law dictates that the courts should err on the side of the tribes when possible.
But Brown said none of the judges addressed a critical issue from the tribe’s point of view, that the tribes never agreed to cede the land in the first place.
"The Northern Arapaho Tribe didn’t really participate in that process and so without their participation there was no agreement. And I think the court kind of thought that wasn’t an important part of the history. But we think it is."
Brown said, he hopes to argue this point in an appeal that must be filed in the next two weeks.
At a meeting in January, Brown said Governor Matt Mead met with both tribes. “And we made a commitment to each other that we would not let this decision interfere with the good working relationship the Northern Arapaho has with the state of Wyoming,” said Brown. “And so Governor Mead very graciously called me yesterday morning and wanted to reiterate that commitment.”
The two tribes plan to meet Friday morning to discuss their intention to appeal.