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American Indians & Wyoming: Week 6 in Cheyenne

Greetings WAC Community,

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. “In that day,” declares the Lord, “I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief. I will make the lame a remnant, those driven away a strong nation.” – Micah 4:3-5

After having moved to Riverton in 2013 and my beginning to meet Native American leaders on the Wind River Reservation, I went to Cheyenne for the 2014 Legislature’s Budget Session, an annual pilgrimage for me.  A couple of months earlier, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) handed down its decision that the tribes on the Wind River Reservation (WRR) could monitor the air quality as if the WRR was a state, as allowed by federal law.  The decision included that the City of Riverton is a part of the WRR.  The State of Wyoming quickly appealed that decision, which as yet is undecided by the courts.

Also in 2014, the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations, as requested by tribal health care leaders, sponsored a bill for a Medicaid waiver request for additional federal funds for health care on the WRR, a process that required state cooperation to obtain.  I was glad to be a part of helping to make that happen sharing my knowledge about how the legislative process works with leaders from both tribes.

But while I was an experienced lobbyist, I was not ready for what happened during that 2014 Budget Session.  Because of the EPA decision, there was open hostility towards the WRR (not yet over as is reported in the WyoFile article linked below).  A bill to fund the state’s appeal of the EPA decision was easily approved, while the bill voted on a few minutes later failed to get the two-thirds votes required for introduction. (This was adopted in 2015 as part of the supplemental budget, but is still pending federal government approval.)

In 2014, few were there from the WRR to promote the interests of the WRR.  I discovered that residents of the WRR, although state and U.S. citizens, were reluctant to get involved because of how they were treated in the past and being perceived as “the enemy” instead of constituents with valid concerns.

That is changing.  Since then, with the help of a grant from the Foundation of the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, Native Advocacy Days have happened during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 sessions for youth and adults from the WRR.  The Wind River Native Advocacy Center (WRNAC) now has a fulltime director, Jason Baldes, who has been to Cheyenne several times during the 2015 session.  Through the WRNAC, more are becoming engaged in the legislative process.  It has been my joy to help make that happen.  The two proposals supported by the tribes and the Wind River Native Advocacy Center demonstrate success.

  1. HJ 8 – A resolution for federal responsibility for American Indian health care has passed both the House and the Senate, with only one no vote out of the 90 in the State Legislature!

  2. HB 76 – American Indian education program to include Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho history, contributions and culture in the curriculum in our public schools is on General File in the Senate with both the Senate and House Committees having voted unanimously for it.

These are victories that we can build upon.  But the battle is far from over for equity on the WRR.  For more, see:

  1. Rev. Rodger McDaniel’s recent editorial in the Cheyenne Tribune Eaglehttp://www.wyomingnews.com/opinion/

  2. Andrew Graham’s analysis in WyoFile http://www.wyofile.com/

Fear not. Be bold. Do justice.

Blessings,

Chesie

P.S. The Wyoming Association of Churches appreciates your many financial gifts for our justice work in Wyoming for the oppressed.  Click here.  Or mail your contribution to WAC, PO Box 1473, Laramie, WY 82073. You may designate your gift to the Wind River Native Advocacy Center.

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