By BEN NEARY
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) _ A dispute over a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision saying that lands around Riverton are legally Indian Country has spurred a national group to hold a conference there despite objections from the Northern Arapaho Tribe.
The Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, which is dedicated to ending tribal sovereignty, plans to hold a public workshop at Riverton City Hall on June 13 and a conference June 14 at the Fremont County Fairgrounds.
Alliance Board member Elaine Willman of Green Bay, Wisconsin, said Friday that no government agency is sponsoring her group’s conference. She said it will focus on what the alliance sees as over-reaching by the federal government.
“There was a time, during the 1800s and first 20 years of the 1900s, where there was an appropriate and legitimate need for federal Indian policy,” Willman said Friday in a telephone interview. “That has long since passed. And we find that the distinction that creates dual citizenship, and that creates some citizens as treated differently from other citizens is a real violation of the 14th Amendment, so yes, we do oppose federal Indian policy.”
Willman said the alliance doesn’t believe taxpayers should have to support the hundreds of tribal governments nationwide. The alliance has held conferences around the country and has weighed in on Indian issues at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The alliance expects to draw people from around the West. Despite criticism from Indian groups around the country, Willman said her group is not racist.
The alliance chose Riverton for its conference because of public concern over the EPA’s recent decision that lands around Riverton city remain Indian Country. The EPA addressed the boundary issue when it granted a request from both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to treat their joint Wind River Indian Reservation as a separate state under the federal Clean Air Act.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has blasted the EPA decision, saying it’s up to Congress to determine reservation boundaries. Federal courts elsewhere have ruled that the EPA has the responsibility to make reservation boundary determinations when it acts on such tribal permit applications.
The state, together with Riverton, Fremont County and other groups, is appealing the EPA decision in federal court in Denver.
Dan Head, spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said Friday that Enzi has drafted a bill that would declare that Riverton and the surrounding area are not part of the reservation. Head said Enzi is still gathering comments and listening to what all the stakeholders have to say and hasn’t introduced the bill.
The Northern Arapaho Business Council wrote to Riverton and Fremont County officials this week expressing concern about the alliance meeting.
Dean Goggles, a member of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, said, “CERA’s dangerous ideas hark back to deeply harmful United States policies promoting Native American assimilation and termination of tribes and reservations.”
Kimberly Varilek, attorney general of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, said Friday that she intends to attend the alliance conference to learn more about its position.
Mayor Ron Warpness of Riverton said Friday that neither the city nor the Fremont County is endorsing the alliance’s actions. However, he said he read through its materials and personally agrees with what he saw.
Warpness said he believes the reservation system is a failure. Noting that people in Riverton live right on the border of the Wind River Indian Reservation, he said, “I see the level of poverty; I see the level of unemployment; I see the level of suicide rates; I see the heartache that the two tribes are going through on the reservation. I personally don’t believe that we would tolerate that in any part of Wyoming.”
In its pending federal appeal of the EPA’s decision, the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office has asked for permission to file historical documents and other materials that the federal agency didn’t include in its administrative record. The tribes and the EPA are opposing the state’s request.
Attorney General Peter Michael said Thursday that although the state had a chance to comment on the EPA permit, the process wasn’t as detailed as the discovery process in a full federal lawsuit, where lawyers get to go over all available documents. Wyoming didn’t get to see the EPA’s legal conclusions _ or an accompanying legal opinion about the land’s status from the U.S. Department of Interior _ until they were released in their final form when the permit came out last year.