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Panelists to discuss EPA boundary decision

May 4, 2014 - From staff reports

The Northern Arapaho Tribe invites the public to an informative symposium Tuesday in Riverton.

The event is in response to recent concern about the boundary of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Environmental Protection Agency in December issued a ruling approving the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes' application for treatment in a manner similar to a state as part of the federal Clean Air Act. As part of the decision, the EPA stated that the reservation was not diminished by a 1905 Act of Congress that opened certain areas, including the city of Riverton, to homesteading.

At the request of Wyoming and the tribes, the EPA has stayed portions of its decision to let local governments discuss jurisdictional implications of the ruling.

The state is challenging the decision in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, along with Riverton, Fremont County, Devon Energy and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, and Wyoming's congressional delegation is putting forth a bill clarifying the reservation boundary.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe issued a statement opposing the bill, which says, "the boundaries of the (WRIR) shall be the diminished boundaries set forth in Article I of the Act of March 3, 1905."

Symposium

Sponsors of the Tuesday panel discussion say they want to ease resident concerns about the EPA decision and generate conversations about related federal lawsuits.

"We hope the event will spark positive discussion and creative thinking," Northern Arapaho Business Council member Anthony "Al" Addison said in a press release this week.

Attendees at the symposium also will have the opportunity to learn about a Michigan community that faced a similar boundary dispute. In 2010, parties to a 100-year-old disagreement on the Isabella Indian Reservation -- including the state of Michigan; the city of Mt. Pleasant, Mich.; Isabella County, Michigan; and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe -- were able to solve their jurisdictional issues outside of court, thereby improving the relationship between native and non-native residents, according to officials from the Northern Arapaho Tribe.

"Initially, I think we all thought we were going to resolve the lawsuit in court," Mt. Pleasant City Commissioner Kathleen Ling said. "But in the process of sitting down and talking to each other (in mediation) we realized we weren't as far apart as people had initially thought."

The symposium will feature panelists, including Ling, who helped forge the Michigan settlement agreements. The group will discuss how they came together to solve jurisdictional, land and tax issues; why settlement was preferred over a resolution in court; how settlement agreements improved day-to-day coordination between the native and non-native communities; how those agreements are working today; and how Fremont County can create a similar settlement strategy.

The symposium theme is, "Mending fences: How one Michigan town settled its reservation boundary battle without the courts." It is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday at the Central Wyoming College Intertribal Education and Community Center, Wind River Room.