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Indian gaming group blasts state, feds for challenging EPA on border

May 26, 2014 - From staff reports

A resolution condemning efforts by state and federal representatives to clarify the boundary of the Wind River Indian Reservation has been passed by the National Indian Gaming Association.

The resolution was approved unanimously by NIGA's 184 member tribes, who also called on federal agencies to defend the existing boundary.

On Dec. 6, the Environmental Protection Agency granted Clean Air Act treatment as a state status to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes on the reservation.

In its decision document, the EPA ruled that the reservation was not diminished by a 1905 Act of Congress that opened up lands -- including the city of Riverton -- for homesteading.

According to a NIGA press release, the EPA resolution affected 170,000 acres in central Wyoming. The reservation consists of 2.2 million acres, NIGA said.

Challenge

The State of Wyoming and others have challenged the EPA decision in federal court, and Gov. Matt Mead asked the state's congressional delegates to draft a bill stating that the 1905 Act of Congress did diminish the reservation.

In its resolution, NIGA condemned the actions of the state and federal lawmakers, calling the actions "contrary to federal law, the inherent sovereign rights of Indian Tribes, and the basic human right of self-determination."

NIGA's resolution noted that the "history of the United States has long been marked by State efforts to extinguish tribal governments entirely or, when that has not been possible, to shrink the sovereign territory and authority of the Tribes, to take or control tribal resources, and to dominate tribal people."

NIGA is an intertribal association established to support Indian gaming and defend Indian sovereignty. In its resolution, NIGA states that the U.S. Constitution recognizes the sovereign status of American Indian tribes as native nations established before the United States.

The resolution further states that the EPA in its decision document confirmed that the exterior boundary of the reservation was established by a treaty of 1868, "minus only those areas reduced by the Lander and Thermopolis purchases."

"The United States has a trust responsibility, rooted in the Constitution, to protect Tribes from efforts by States or others to diminish tribal territory and sovereignty," the resolution continues. "NIGA urges the DOI and EPA to continue to recognize and defend the existing boundaries of the WRIR against attack by the State of Wyoming or others."

The association also asked members of Congress to oppose any legislative action to diminish the reservation.

NIGA adopted the reservation resolution during the group's annual trade show and convention in San Diego, Calif. In a speech before the resolution vote, Northern Arapaho Business Council Co-Chairman Ronald K. Oldman urged NIGA delegates to push their members of Congress to oppose the reservation bill authored by U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

"Please ask for their help in stopping the State of Wyoming from returning us to the era of termination," Oldman said. "Mead has promised to put all the state's resources against us. ... We need your help."