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Darwin St. Clair Jr.: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

The National Museum of the American Indian interview series Meet Native America continues today with Darwin St. Clair Jr.

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Darwin John St. Clair Jr., chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

Can you share your Native name with us?

It's Owndabe. It means Stern, but my nickname is Sonny.

Where is your tribal community located? 

The 1868 Fort Bridger Treaty established the Eastern Shoshone Reservation in west central Wyoming for the Shoshone and Shoshone Bannock Tribes. It's now known as the Wind River Indian Reservation, and it covers more than 2.2 million acres.

Where were the Eastern Shoshone people originally from?

The Shoshone Nation extends from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, with the Eastern Shoshone and Comanche, west to the California coast, and south to Mexico. Thirty-eight tribes speak similar Shoshonean dialects. Each year there is a Shoshonean reunion hosted by the various tribes.

The boundaries of Eastern Shoshone country described by the 1863 Fort Bridger Treaty were for 44 million acres, which includes west-central Wyoming south to northwestern Colorado, northeastern Utah, and eastern Idaho. This area also includes the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, which became America’s first national park in 1872.

Is there a significant point in Eastern Shoshone history that you would like to share?

In the early 19th century, the Shoshone people were instrumental in the success of the Corps of Discovery by providing them with horses and guidance through the mountains.

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Due to the relationship we had with the U.S. government, during negotiations over the 1868 treaty we were able to pick our own land to reside on. So we choose the Warm Valley area of Wind River, on our traditional homelands, where we have been since time immemorial.

How is your tribal government set up?

We still practice our traditional form of governance by way of having a General Council. It is made up of the people—all enrolled members over the age of 18 can vote. The leadership is six members who are elected to conduct business on behalf of the people, the Business Council. The chairman is selected from within the Business Council members.

We are a resolution tribe, and we make law by passing resolutions. The main areas that require General Council approval are changes to the Law and Order Code, hiring of attorneys, changes to the Fish and Game Code, or changes to the Tribal Enrollment Code.

Is there any other functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Traditionally, leadership was made up of a council of leaders selected by their band or family group and responsible to the people they represented to make decisions on their behalf. Not until we got involved with the U.S. government did we have to appoint only one leader.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Council members are elected to serve a four-year term. Each term is staggered, so there is an election every two years for three council members.

How often does your government meet?

Our Tribal Council meets on a daily basis, Monday through Friday. Eastern Shoshone General Council meetings are held on a quarterly basis throughout the year or through special General Council meetings when needed.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

To protect and preserve our treaty, sovereignty, water, air, wildlife, culture, language, government, and assets. To improve upon the education of all tribal members. To keep traditional knowledge for those tribal members unborn for generations to come and leave the future with something holistic and organic to build on.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.