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.
My name is W. Patrick Goggles; my Northern Arapaho name is White Grizzly Bear. I am a former Wyoming state legislator. I represented Wyoming House District 33 for ten years—from 2005 until 2014.
What tribes are you affiliated with?
I am an enrolled Northern Arapaho.
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
I not sure of the date or century, but when alcohol was introduced to our people. The effects have been devastating to immediate family, extended family, band, and tribe. Today our people still suffer from generational alcoholism. Complete families have succumbed to alcohol and alcoholism.
How is your state government set up?
The Wyoming legislature is a bicameral institution, with 60 house members and 30 senate members.
How are leaders chosen?
Party leadership is elected within the party caucus. The leadership of the house and senate is elected by the members every two years, after general elections. I was the minority whip in 2009 as well as the minority leader of the Wyoming House from 2010 to 2012.
Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state? Do they vote along party lines?
Republicans control both the Wyoming House and Senate with a supermajority. There are 25 Republican senators and 52 house members. The Republican Party in Wyoming aligns to the conservative right, from moderate to ultra conservative.
Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?
While I served in the Wyoming House of Representatives, I was the only Native American representative. At the local level during that time, the Native population elected a Native woman as a Fremont County Commissioner, a first in the history of Wyoming.
How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?
There are two tribes, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone. There are also many Native people who are married into the two tribes.
As a legislator, did you ever meet with the Native people of your state?
Absolutely. I served as chairman of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations for my last terms and was a member of the committee for eight years. I regularly met with local school boards, tribal governments, tribal programs, Native veterans, elders, and all constituents within the district I served. I talked with Native folks daily while I was in office and continue to do so today.
Do the Native people in Wyoming vote in state elections?
The Native American population in Wyoming is active in state elections from school boards and county commissions to state representatives, state senators, and governor.
How often does your state legislature meet?
The Wyoming legislature is constitutionally mandated to meet every year. Even years are budget sessions for 20 days, and odd years are general sessions for 40 days.
What responsibilities did you have as a state representative?
As an elected state representative you’re held to a higher standard. Transparency, accountability, accuracy, being law abiding, a role model, and a good citizen immediately come to mind. The general areas of political, social, financial, and, yes, religious life are fair game. Your give up your free time to serve the people at a significant sacrifice to immediate family and community. Expectations of your service are 24/7, 365 days of the year. You’re expected to be available, accessible, and prepared.
You’re expected to maintain and preserve the public trust and to be honest. The compensation you receive is the people's gratitude and thanks. You should not financially benefit or profit from your elected position and should view the state’s financial position in fiscally conservative terms.
You become the standard bearer of your community. You are asked to attend community events, activities and functions. You are asked to speak at political gatherings, graduations, funerals, weddings, birthdays, and just about everything else.
Constituents ask for your help, like testifying in tribal court, state court and even federal court. Speaking on behalf of family in front of various audiences is a constant. In Wyoming the legislature is called a citizens legislature because it is not a professional institution. An elected official such as a representative is considered a part-time employee of the state. Most legislators maintain full-time employment, public or private. In essence an elected official is performing two full-time jobs. At the same time I was serving in the legislature, I have been executive director of Northern Arapaho Tribal Housing. I haven't retired from that position. I haven't retired from politics, either. There is still a lot I'd like to do.
To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.