Wind River Reservation

The Wind River Indian Reservation is as beautiful as its melodic name! It's one of the largest Reservations in the United States, spanning over 2.2 million acres and contained within the boundaries of the state. Its scenery ranges from high grassland to some of the most majestic and least populated mountain ranges.

Wyoming Public Media serves the Wind River Reservation through Lander (KUWR 91.9, Riverton (KUWT 91.3) and Dubois (KUWR 91.3) locations. Our reporters tell the stories of the Reservation, focusing on issues that affect the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes. You can hear these stories on this page. They reflect the lives of people on the Reservation, their history, hopes, and ambitions. 

Melodie Edwards

This year, while Wyoming lawmakers were voting down Medicaid Expansion in the state, they also approved a Medicaid Waiver for the state’s two tribes, potentially pumping some $16 million of aid into the reservation’s health system. The health crisis on the Wind River Reservation is now at critical levels, but tripling the amount that the tribe’s receive for health care could help.

In March, Northern Arapaho member Cherokee Brown’s daughter brought her a tooth. She didn’t think much about it. Kids lose teeth.

Melodie Edwards

In the recent legislative session, lawmakers approved a Medicaid Waiver for tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation that could give the tribes federal money to expand healthcare.  But there’s still one more hurdle: approval by the Center for Medicaid Services, a federal agency.

Representative Lloyd Larsen of Lander says he expects the process to go smoothly. “We don’t expect the application process to take too long because they’re working closely with CMS.”

10th circuit Federal court judges have denied Andrew Yellowbear's request to become a “friend of the court” in a case about the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision that the city of Riverton falls inside reservation boundaries. Yellowbear was convicted by a state court in the 2004 murder of his infant daughter. He argues he should have been tried in a federal court since, according to the EPA, Riverton is part of the reservation.

An environmental watchdog group says the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest permits violate the Clean Water Act by allowing thousands of gallons of fracking fluids to be released onto Wind River Reservation lands. The group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility or PEER, say the permits were originally issued in the 1970’s to provide drinking water for livestock and wildlife in the arid West. Director Jeffrey Ruch says, since then, fracking fluid ingredients have become much more complex.

The Northern Arapahoe Tribe and Wind River Casino have donated ten thousand dollars for the Center of Hope in Riverton.

The Center of Hope offers observation, a detox program, and up to 3 months of transitional living to people with substance abuse problems. Clients experience things like morning meditations, group therapy, and skills for coping with loss.

Center of Hope representative Shelley Mbonu says the money donated by the tribe and casino will go toward things like transporting people to treatment programs or getting assessments.

Senate Energy GOP

U.S. Senator John Barrasso will be chairing a congressional hearing on the Wind River Reservation at the end of March that will bring tribal officials and law enforcement together to testify on drugs use on the reservation and different methods to curb use.

The Wind River Reservation was one of four reservations chosen for a law enforcement surge pilot program in 2010 and 2012 to combat substance abuse and violent crime. Barrasso says the hearing was called to find out if it was the surge or some other factors that helped curb crime.

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School is on track to graduate more students than ever this year. It still won’t be a big number, but getting a high school degree is a big deal for students at this small school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Some are making college plans. Others are just crossing their fingers hoping to get through the rest of the school year. 

Blaze Condon was a junior last semester, but she’s earned enough credits to graduate from Fort Washakie in May. She says it felt great to break that news to her family.

Aaron Schrank

In most schools, campaigns to keep students from smoking use simple slogans like “Be Smart, Don’t Start,” but those targeting Native American kids are a bit different. On Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, you’re likely to hear more nuanced catchphrases like “Keep It Sacred,” and “Traditional Use, Not Commercial Abuse.”

That’s because tobacco is an indispensable part of many Native American traditions. But with sky-high smoking rates on reservations, Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports that the need to limit nontraditional tobacco use is greater than ever. 

The Northern Arapaho tribe recently lost a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service. The tribe sued the IRS because it classified the Northern Arapaho as a large employer, requiring them to pay for employee health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The tribe argued that a long-standing treaty requires the federal government to pay for Native American health care, and that the federally-run Indian Health Services isn’t doing good enough to fulfill that agreement.

While a Medicaid Expansion bill has its skeptics in the State Senate this week, a waiver to expand it for Native Americans is getting warmer reception.

The Joint Appropriations Committee has included a waiver in the state supplemental budget that would provide health care to some 3,500 low-income Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Representative Lloyd Larsen from Lander says just last year about 40,000 health care visits went uncompensated. Larsen says Wyoming has a legal obligation to pay up.

creativesurfaces.com

1 in 4 Native Americans lives under the poverty level--it’s the worst poverty rates in the U.S. of any racial group. But one group is improving its economic outlook on the reservation: Native women. They’re taking managerial jobs and pursuing higher education more than ever before and are often the primary family breadwinners. In fact, at the Wind River Casino--the largest employer in Fremont County--the female workforce is now almost 60 percent.

When Delinda Burning Breast started with the Wind River Casino ten years ago, it wasn’t even a casino--it was just a bingo hall.

Wyoming Legislature

 The State Senate has given initial support to a bill that aims to fix Wyoming’s Tribal Liaison program. 

The two liaisons work with the tribes and state government, but there’s been disputes over funding and other matters.  The legislation provides 200 thousand dollars for the liaisons and makes them an appointee of the governor.

Republican Cale Case of Lander says the bill empowers them to be a more important part of state and tribal government. 

Mike Read

This school year, we're following the academic progress of students at Fort Washakie High School—a struggling school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Academic achievement—like most things at the high school—is on the rise. Thanks to its recent switch from charter to public, there’s a brand new school building in the works here. And students here have just taken a step that seems small, but is key to earning Fort Washakie its stripes as a traditional high school on the reservation. They've put together a basketball team.

Wyoming Legislature

A legislative committee is looking at how to improve the state’s Tribal Liaison program. Liaisons represent both tribes—the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho-- but there have been disputes over their roles and over the cost sharing nature of the program.  

Wikimedia Commons

It's been a topsy-turvy couple years for the tribes on the Wind River Reservation. They're in litigation with the state of Wyoming over the decision by Environmental Protection Agency declaring the city of Riverton within reservation boundaries, the Northern Arapaho dissolved the Joint Business Council it has always shared with the Eastern Shoshone, and their water rights were officially adjudicated in a historic ceremony this fall. Last week, both tribes held their council elections.

There was little turnover during the Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone tribal elections last week. Elections are held every two years. Half of the Shoshone Council's six members will be new going into the next term, including Clinton Wagon, Jodie McAdam and Rick Harris Jr.

The Northern Arapaho also have three new councilmen-- Forest Whiteman, Richard Brannan and Norman Willow Sr. Re-elected Arapaho councilman Darrell O’Neal says the relative lack of turnover is a sign of support for the council’s decisions this last term.

Al Hubbard

Last week, the Lander Art Center hosted an opening for its second annual Native American art exhibit. The show runs through December 20 and boasts more than 50 artists, most of them from the Wind River Indian Reservation. One artist in the exhibit is Al Hubbard, a 42-year-old Navajo and Arapaho artist who says traditional Native American images are fine, but Hubbard says he’s more interested in using pop art and other contemporary styles to express his ideas about tribal history and spirituality.

An opening reception on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Lander Art Center will launch a new exhibit of Native American art work. It’s the show’s second year in a row and comes in honor of National Native American Heritage Month. The exhibit will showcase over 50 artists, mostly from Wind River Indian Reservation. Director Lisa Hueneke says, this year, about half the artists are students from reservation high schools. She says the exhibit demonstrates a wide diversity of artistic styles. One of the artists on display is Al Hubbard, a Northern Arapaho and Navajo artist.

Tim Hulsen, Flickr Creative Commons

Let’s go back--way back--to 1868. The Northern Arapaho tribe has survived not only the Sand Creek Massacre but decades of war with the US Army. They’re an exhausted people. In the middle of winter, the US Army decides to move them across Shoshone territory to Oklahoma.

“Well, you know Wyoming winters,” says John Washakie, great grandson of Chief Washakie and longtime Shoshone Councilman. He’s also a tribal storyteller. “They’re very cold. The horses were not in the best of shape. Some of the children and women were ill.”

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School on the Wind River Indian Reservation was a charter high school until a few years ago. Now it’s a public school. Most of its classes used to be online. Now, it’s building a brick-and-mortar building for 150 students.

For now, around 50 kids and a dozen teachers make do in makeshift classrooms. The school’s last reported graduation rate was just 7 percent, but as it morphs into a more traditional high school, the current crop of students has high hopes for the future.

Earlier this month, the Northern Arapaho Tribe decided to dissolve the Joint Business Council. It had been the major governing body for the two tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming since the early 1930’s.

Northern Arapaho Business Council Member Dean Goggles says the Joint Business Council was imposed upon the tribes by the federal government to make it easier for them to get consensus from both tribes. But instead, Goggles says, the Council was stripping the tribes of their autonomy, making it harder to work together.

Melodie Edwards

Earlier this month in a Worland courthouse, a judge signed a final decree that brought to end what’s probably the longest-running lawsuit in Wyoming history. After 37 years, the lawsuit decided who exactly owns the water rights in and around the Wind River Indian Reservation. Those involved in the suit are now looking to the future.

Wikimedia Commons

Possibly the longest running lawsuit in Wyoming history came to an end last Friday in Worland. Judge Robert Skar signed a final decree that brought closure to a controversial water rights case. The case examined some 20,000 possible water rights claims in and around the Wind River Indian Reservation over the course of 37 years. Water law professor Jason Robison was at the historic signing.

Saying that it wants more Tribal Sovereignty, the Northern Arapaho tribe is leaving the Joint Tribal Business Council it had shared with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. 

Calling it a historic move The Northern Arapaho tribe has dissolved the Joint Business Council, but in a prepared statement, the Eastern Shoshone tribe says they won’t go along with the plan. The main reason is that the decision was never approved by their business council.

Jimmy Emerson via Flickr Creative Commons

The Wyoming Department of Education will hold its fifth annual Native American Education Conference this week in Riverton. The goals of the conference including boosting communication between schools and the Native American families they serve—and integrating tribal culture into curriculum.

Last year, the high school graduation rate for Native American students in Wyoming was 42 percent, compared to 78 percent for all students. Conference coordinator Keja Whiteman says that gap signals the need for this event.

Over the years it's been a challenge to drum up political engagement on the Wind River Reservation. But things may be different this year with eight tribal members running for office in multiple parties. It's an unusually high number. Democratic Representative Patrick Goggles says it’s his theory that what has inspired so much political gusto is the shifting dynamic in the Republican Party. He says the politicizing of the right wing is happening everywhere, including Wind River.

Amit Rawat via Flickr Creative Commons

This weekend, the Northern Arapaho Tribe and Rocky Mountain National Park will celebrate the 100th anniversary of a historic pack trip through Estes Park with presentations and performances in Bond Park.

The 1914 trip was a collaboration between three tribal leaders from the Northern Arapaho and translators and historians from areas around the park. The tribal leaders shared place names, histories and stories with Oliver Toll who compiled them in a pamphlet which is still available at ranger stations today.

americanindian.net

In coming years, visitors to Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation will see new historical perspectives on roadside signs and markers. That’s the proposed outcome of the new Wind River Interpretive Plan. It's believed to be the first such collaboration between tribes and state government on a reservation-wide interpretive plan.

Wyoming's Wind River Country

An organization that's working to end tribal sovereignty hosted a national conference in Riverton this weekend. The group is protesting the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision that the city of Riverton falls within Wind River reservation boundaries. That has led to tensions between tribal members, the state, and Riverton.   The group--known as Citizens Equal Rights Alliance—posted on their website that it isn't fair that tribal members receive special status because it threatens the individual rights of all Americans.  

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