Accessing federal courts for Native Americans living on Wind River Reservation can be a hardship for those forced to use federal judicial services.
Native American offenders and victims of major crimes that occur in Indian Country go through the federal court system, yet for Wind River residents showing up to court can mean a 600-mile roundtrip. That’s because trials are held primarily at the federal court houses in Casper and Cheyenne.
In the class action lawsuit Cobell vs. Salazar, plaintiff Elouise Cobell accused the Federal Government of mismanaging nearly 150-billion dollars in royalties owed to Indian landowners due to the loss and destruction of records. The government agreed to a $3.4 billion dollar settlement – and government data estimates there are up to 8,000 possible beneficiaries here in Wyoming.
On October 31 U.S. Senator and Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka proposed legislation that would give tribal courts jurisdiction over non-Indians who committed crimes on tribal lands.
The authority to prosecute non-Natives in tribal courts was stripped in a 1978 Supreme Court ruling. Supporters of Senator Akaka’s bill say that the 1978 ruling led to an increase in violence on reservations and has resulted in unprosecuted and unpunished offenders.