Wyoming Senators Look to Deny EPA’s Wind River Ruling

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) drafted legislation that would eliminate the Wind River Reservation status of a significant portion of tribal homeland.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe on April 1 presented a press release in regards to the latest step by Wyoming legislators to stifle the Wind River Reservation boundaries.

According to the release, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has drafted legislation, that is supported by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), that would eliminate the reservation status of a significant portion of Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone homeland in central Wyoming.

“It’s chilling to see this kind of attack on Indian country in 2014,” Darrell O’Neal, Northern Arapaho Business Council chairman, said in the release.

The drafted bill is a response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to treat the Wind River tribes as a state under the Clean Air Act.

RELATED: EPA Says Wind River Reservation Can Monitor Air Quality

The EPA ruling gave the tribes “authority to monitor the air and submit opinions about permits to emit chemicals into the atmosphere on the Wind River Indian Reservation and within 50 miles of the reservation boundaries,” according to an ICTMN story in January.

Within those boundaries sits the town of Riverton, long thought to have been usurped from the reservation in a 1905 land act, but it was decided in December the act did no such thing.

“A detailed legal analysis in the EPA decision concluded that the town of Riverton is part of the Wind River Reservation, a position the tribes have always held,” the tribal release states.

Since then, the fight has escalated on both sides and as the Billings Gazette reported today, “each side claims the other is unqualified to determine a boundary.”

Enzi’s legislation declares the 171,000 acres that includes Riverton, has never been part of the reservation and will continue to remain that way according to the Gazette.

“Sen. Enzi doesn’t want to change the current boundaries,” Coy Knobel, communications director for Enzi said in the Gazette. “He wants to make sure they stay as they have been for decades.”

The news of the legislation broke following a trip by Northern Arapaho leaders to Washington, D.C. last week to confront the Wyoming delegation, where they expressed their opposition to the bill.

“We asked them to reconsider, to open their minds and work with us in good faith,” Northern Arapaho Councilman Al Addison said in the release, “but they were not interested.”

According to the Gazette the Eastern Shoshone, which shares the Wind River Reservation with the Northern Arapaho, are not as upset as their neighbors.

“Generally speaking, these types of bills often save everybody time and money in regards to court actions,” Kimberly Varilek, the tribe’s attorney general told the Gazette. “I think once the tribe has the chance to review the proposed bill they will certainly reach out to the congressional delegation and engage with the senators and the state of Wyoming in regards to the impacts across the board.”

The legislation follows moves in February that involved a petition in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals by Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael challenging the EPA decision, the first of a two-pronged attack by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. All roads appear to be pointing to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If the Wyoming Delegation can do this to us, they can do it to any tribe in the nation,” O'Neal added in the tribal release.