Reply to The New York Times Article 'Brutal Crimes Grip an Indian Reservation'


After reading The New York Times's article, “Brutal Crimes Grip an Indian Reservation,” by Timothy Williams, published February 2, 2012 and the comment section where responses were provided by many individuals living in States from across this great nation to France, Australia, British Columbia, Mexico, England, the Soloman Islands and local responses, I was motivated to provide some much-needed response concerning the Wind River Indian Reservation located in the West Central portion of Wyoming, from a perspective of a resident Eastern Shoshone tribal member.

First of all, the Shoshone Indian Reservation was created by treaty with the United States Government in 1863 and encompassed millions of acres of prime land in what are now Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, some 44,672,000 acres. This Reservation was later diminished in the Fort Bridger, Utah Territory Treaty of 1868 to the present location within the Wyoming counties of Fremont and Hot Springs, to 3,054,182 acres. In 1878 members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe came to the Shoshone Indian Reservation and, subsequently, the name was changed to the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Shoshone Indian Reservation, prior to diminishment, had a wealth of resources including the worlds largest mineral hot springs, vast mineral deposits and natural resources. We still do have this untapped wealth of natural resources, however, unfortunately, not the world’s largest mineral hot springs, but like the original reservation, we still retain some untapped resources that will potentially be profitable for the Tribes.

Secondly, the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes have their respective histories, cultures and tribal governments. Yes, we are Sovereign Tribal Nations with which the State of Wyoming and the U.S. Government have to negotiate on a government-to-government basis. This is our right and expectation that we will be dealt with fairly and competently. The two tribes, over the decades have intermarried and have a very valuable connection with each other, namely our children who are the most important resource any Nation can have. We are not “at war” with each other, although both Tribes want the best for their tribal members and communities. This is natural in any community, on or off reservations.

Thirdly, the article itself creates the misleading impression of rampant drug abuse, murder, rape, child abuse, and domestic violence that, reportedly, only increased during “the surge,” which was an Obama administration initiative to eradicate crime from four targeted reservations. The National Park Service, mainly, and other federal agencies that swarmed the Reservation had no training or experience in the field of Law Enforcement and treated tribal members with a lack of respect, disdain and imperiousness. Yes, they were visible and most of the “enforcement” endeavors were traffic stops for minor violations. After all, what could have been expected when their experience is dealing with speeding tourists in the national parks and wildlife protection? Where was “the surge” against the drug trade and known drug pushers? I asked this very same question of local officials. In a public service announcement concerning the Wind River Crime Reduction/Prevention Plan Implementation, the document states “The purpose of the Crime Reduction/Prevention Plan is to target specific criminal activity on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Increased Criminal Activity that has been identified in certain areas of the Wind River Indian Reservation will be addressed.” Unfortunately, the focus on “criminal activity” seemed to exclude drug usage and dealing, which are rampant. The Times article continued, “Wind River, as has been true for much of its turbulent history, bucked the trend: violent crime there increased by 7 percent during the surge, according to the Department of Justice.” I, as an Eastern Shoshone Tribal member, would like to know what the 7 per cent increase in the crime rate was inclusive of. We, as Tribal people, as far as I know, were never provided with any information concerning the outcome of this “surge.”

Another point, and a major one, is that the Wind River Indian Reservation has, like many Western states and Wyoming itself, long distances between communities. Yes, there are vast distances to travel that have sage brush, hills—distances that seem “scrub” to an Eastern individual whose vistas comprise pavement, city blocks and communities melding into one another by comparison. Wyoming and the Reservation are blessed with the natural resources that are not always available in the environment from which the writer of the “Brutal Crimes Grip Wind River Indian Reservation” obviously comes. The Eastern Shoshone people were blessed with a prescient leader of the 1800’s, our Chief Washakie. He was a man of peace and vision, who wanted to retain this great and beautiful land nestled between snow packed mountain peaks, lush valleys abundant with game, and clear rivers and streams for the Shoshone People. The Shoshone Tribe was one of a very few Indian Tribes that was allowed to settle on their own land, and we are a PROUD people.

I am very perplexed by the article and comments. I have lived most of my life on this wonderful and beautiful Reservation and have never heard of “murderers' row.” I am sure that individual people have their own names for local places, but that is downright misleading. I find the statements, “This place has always had the gloom here,” and “There has always been the horrendous murder” unfathomable. I was born in the Reservation border town of Lander and received my elementary education in the local school district of Fort Washakie. I, as did most of the elementary graduates, attended High School in Lander and upon high school graduation, I went to college out of state. Eventually, I received a Bachelor of Social Work Degree and later attained a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Hard work, family support, and determination were the basis of my education. In growing up on the Reservation, I never found it gloomy nor was aware of horrendous murders.

During my early years, we didn’t have Meth, Cocaine and other drugs, not to mention prescription drug abuse. People cared for each other and were involved with each other. Indeed, times have changed. Today, as a result of the alcohol abuse that is rampant on this reservation and many other reservations, most major crimes are alcohol related. I do not see Tribal people, or any people on the Reservation for that matter, deliberately, with premeditation, planning these major violent crimes. People can safely visit this beautiful reservation, rich in natural resources and culture, without the fear of being a target of crime, to learn about a history rich in tradition and tribal lore.

I also find it questionable that many Reservation people believe that the Reservation is “haunted” – “the ghosts of the innocent killed in an 1864 massacre.” Again, I ask what and where was this 1864 massacre which is resulting in the “haunting” of our Reservation? I find it very difficult to believe a quotation by one of our tribal representatives that states, “Anywhere, there are good spirits and bad spirits around, but when people are struggling in their lives, those bad spirits come around more often. It’s kind of a yin and yang.” I would, instead, point to the lack of education, which is the bane of any Tribal community or people, not only Indians. When Tribal leaders do not have the formal education to better serve those people who elected them to their respective offices, what can we expect but ignorance, as illustrated in the “haunting” quotation?

I am not denying the fact that we have drug addiction, violence and alcoholism on this Reservation. What can be done to counteract these problems? I believe that education is the key to begin solving our problems, and that our leaders must set high standards by example. Our Tribal people, both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes, have to do more to promote education. In this endeavor, we need strong leadership from our elected officials. Our Tribal leaders were elected to lead; we expect them to do what they were elected to do. Lead a “surge” to educate our people!

Enrolled Wind River Indian Reservation Tribal members receive monthly per capita payments that stem from Tribally owned natural resources (oil and natural gas production revenue are the main resources) that are paid to the Tribes by non-tribally owned oil and gas production companies. We, unlike other stakeholders, receive only a very minor percent of what the big oil and gas companies garner from sales of our minerals. The result is a continuum of poverty on the Reservation. More than 80 % of the tribe has to live on this monthly pittance. We are a proud people, despite comments made to the contrary by a few border town residents, and do not ask for handouts from the government. Education, health and housing are a big concern to all of our people. While health care is free to us, the system is riddled with inefficiencies, misdiagnoses, and medication prescription errors. Our housing situation is dreadful with scant financial means to construct better and more housing for all tribal members.

More often than not, an employee with no formal education or experience in the field is hired to direct programs that are of most importance to Tribal members. What is rampant on the Reservation, besides alcohol abuse, is a lack of education and the selection of many program directors on the basis of nepotism, rather than on educational credentials and preparation.

One other statement I need to make after reading the comment section to the article is this: Comments advocating getting rid of the reservations and assimilating Native Americans into the majority society are so wrong. I read several that admonished Native Americans to “get over it”, and “that happened 150 years ago, ancient history.” We, as Indian people, have a connection to this land, whereas the white majority who immigrated to this country has no connection to the land that resembles what we have. We not only have a spiritual connection to our land but a history that is not “ancient history.” Many of us have grandparents who were born in the 1800’s and can relate to our ancestors not as “ancient history, get over it,” but with that direct connection. I can see why the non-Indian can make this kind of statement because of their disconnect to the land and local history.

Despite all the hardships we face, we will continue to work towards making the Reservation better in spite of the roadblocks. No other people in the history of the United States are as regulated by the Federal Government as are the Indian people, yet we are still here fighting for our future, however dismal as it may seem to the non-Indian skeptics. On the other hand, we are grateful for those individuals who speak up for the plight of Indian people. We have a long fight ahead of us, but with God’s help and our own, we will persevere.