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. 

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.

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.  

The Eastern Shoshone tribal liaison has stepped down from her position, saying the governor and legislature were disrespectful to her, both as a woman and tribal member. But the Governor's office says she wasn't fulfilling her responsibility to mediate between the tribes and the state. 

Tensions have been mounting between the governor’s office and the Wind River Indian tribes for months. The Environmental Protection Agency recently ruled that the city of Riverton falls within reservation boundaries, setting the state and tribes at odds.

The tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation run their own family services agencies, funded by the tribes themselves, federal grants and contracts with the state. But the Northern Arapaho Department of Family Services and the larger family welfare system on the reservation has some work to do.

Reviews over the years have pointed to big problems and some of them have gone years without being addressed effectively. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov has the story.   

IRINA ZHOROV:  22-month Marcella Yellowbear died on July 2nd, 2004.

It’s been a few months since we’ve had Governor Matt Mead on the program.  He joins Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck to discuss a dispute over boundaries in Riverton and Education.

WILLOW BELDEN: In 2012, the tribes who share the Wind River Indian Reservation, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho Tribes, came to a settlement with the federal government for a mineral royalties mismanagement case dating back to the 1970’s. The federal government has finally released the money from the settlement, and tribal members on Wind River are anxiously awaiting their checks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov joins us to talk about the settlement and what it means to the Wind River Community.

To start, could you tell us what this settlement is all about.

Long-awaited money from a settlement on the Wind River Indian Reservation is finally on its way. The 157 million dollar settlement between the tribes and the federal government is for underpayment of royalties on oil and gas development…and improper management of royalties that were paid.

Northern Arapaho spokesman Mark Howell says some people don’t have bank accounts…and there were concerns they would not be able to cash their checks.

Long-awaited money from a settlement on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming is finally on its way.

The federal government is paying the tribes $157 million for underpayment of royalties on oil and gas development and improper management of royalties that were paid. Northern Arapaho spokesman Mark Howell says some people don’t have bank accounts and there were concerns they would not be able to cash their checks.

On Saturday, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe's General Council dismissed two elected tribal officials.

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