A flurry of confusion shrouds an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that claims Riverton as part of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

But those working closely with the tribes and federal government believe it’s a complicated but clear-cut case.

The EPA’s decision raised the eyebrows of local and state officials on Monday after it declared Riverton has been part of the reservation for the past 108 years.

The announcement came five years after the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes filed an application with the EPA to have more authority in monitoring the reservation's air quality.

The boundaries of Riverton and environmental policy may seem independent of one another.

But the application process forced the EPA, Department of Interior and Department of Justice to dig through the annals of history to delineate what areas the tribes are in charge of monitoring.

In their research, the agencies discovered that a 1905 land act previously thought to have passed tribal land to homesteaders didn’t legally do so.      

Riverton’s boundaries have been a long-running point of contention between tribal members and Riverton residents. While the tribes view the EPA ruling as a victory, city residents don't.

The EPA decision has raised questions about how state and local governments will conduct law enforcement policies, legal jurisdictions and tax collections if the city is truly within the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

“On face value it sounds like it could be a very difficult change to swallow,” Riverton City Councilman Jonathan Faubion said.

Riverton City Hall received many inquiries about the EPA decision on Tuesday, Mayor Ronald Warpness said.

“People are already calling asking to get sales tax returns because there’s no sales tax on the reservation,” he said.  

Warpness assured the residents there will be no immediate changes to city operations.

“We’re not reacting any way to it,” he said.

The EPA’s decision will be posted on the federal register within in the next few weeks. Once it’s posted, there will be a 60-day appeal and comment period. Gov. Matt Mead announced Monday night he would ask state Attorney General Peter Michael to appeal the EPA’s ruling.

If the state contests the decision, the legal battle will be held in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

High-ranking officials from the DOI, DOJ and EPA have firmly signaled it will be difficult for the decision to be overruled.

The state contends that at least four cases argued in the Wyoming Supreme Court have already set the precedent that Riverton is independent of the reservation.

The tribal and federal governments, though, say the contention about Riverton’s boundaries is not a state issue.

“This is a federal issue,” said Mark Howell, a Northern Arapaho lobbyist who worked on the application.

The EPA’s decision hinged on language in the 1905 law and was backed by U.S. Supreme Court legal precedents.   

The 1905 legislation set aside land for non-Indian settlers. The tribes sold 9 percent of the land to settlers. That 9 percent comprises Riverton. The remaining 91 percent was returned to the reservation.

In the wake of the 1905 act, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a number of cases that created precedents for determining valid land transactions from tribes to nontribal members. They are based on three criteria: congressional authority, payment method and contract language. The EPA claims the latter two were not met in regards to the 1905 case.

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard two cases where land sales similar to the one in Riverton have proved unsound, giving the EPA the impetus to make its ruling on Riverton.

“The ruling, from my perspective, is not surprising. I believe the 1905 boundaries did not diminish the Wind River Indian Reservation,” Northern Arapaho member and state Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, said. “I realize there is frustration in terms of jurisdiction issues, but this is a good opportunity for local governments and tribes to work together to minimize those differences of opinion and disputes. Tomorrow the sun will rise and life will go on.”

(18) comments

Sassy
Sassy

Of course the Tribes don't want to change the Justice system...Deep in their beliefs they say the White man created the issues, the White man can deal with it....

" Howell said....(Today) criminal jurisdiction doesn’t change,” he said. “We’re all at status quo. Tribes requested that because they want to be good neighbors and good friends and work in cooperation with state, county and federal governments.”

Kool Kat
Kool Kat

Attn Sassy, first of all its "unconstitutional" to have an "independent state" inside of a sovereign state. And by Constitution, only the Congress can decide a state from not a state. And in this case here, you can not have a treaty with a sovereign state.

Average Guy
Average Guy

Kool Kat - A little evidence would help here. How can you establish your claims? Where is it stated, in the Constitution, that an independent state cannot exist within a sovereign state?

Where, in the Constitution, does it say that only Congress can decide a state form a state?

Where, in the Constitution, does it say that you cannot have a treaty with a sovereign state?

Kool Kat
Kool Kat

Attn Guy, the people of DC have always wanted statehood. Congress has in past rejected the notion of a state inside of a sovereign state. Then talk to the people of Riverton,they6 want to be part of Wyoming, not the State of Arapahoe and Shoshone.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Notice this Amendment exclusively dedicates the "wishes of all people" not a sovereign people under a treaty. Therefore, Riverton does not have to be bound to boundaries they choose to not to be bound by.

Wyoite
Wyoite

The indians don't really want the city of Riverton, they simply want to shake down the people and the State for money. Disgraceful.

I wish the reporter would have described how the city of Riverton ended up there in the first place. It sounds like (although its not clear) that the indians sold the land to the white man. Why does it not surprise me that the indians would sell something, collected the money, and are now try to retake possession of what they sold??

Actually, the people of Riverton should file a claim for the property taxes they've paid to the county for the last 107 years- talk about a great class action lawsuit, that's it. The county has been out collecting taxes on land it can't legally collect taxes on. Likewise, the indians should seek to have the county turn over all taxes collected.

In reality, the courts will never approve Riverton going back to the indians, it would cause too much turmoil, and, like I said, the indians just want cash, they don't care about being able to set up teepees and smoke peyote in City Park.

Pops
Pops

Wyidiot
Your response is disgraceful! It is also blatantly disrespectful to our proud Native Americans. Where is your sensitivity. Engage an editor before your next post.

Hill Town Trader
Hill Town Trader

There is a competence issue with the Reservation administration. As a new resident in the area, I wanted to work cooperatively with the rez folks. However in four out of five calls to various Reservation entities, no one picked up the phone, nor was there a answering machine or message saying when the office would be open. I tried to hire rez businesses, but could find no directory or any why to find them. If Riverton businesses are going to be required to hire tribal members or tribal business under TERO, then the tribe is going to have to establish a way for business to find them. The Rez folks are going to have to step up and show themselves as good administrators. Start with answering the phone.

Hill Town Trader
Hill Town Trader

The law enforcement situation is dicey. The BIA/tribal law enforcement folks only have authority over tribal members. Fremont County Sheriff has authority over crimes committed by non-tribal members.

Apparently if someone breaks into my home, I should stop and ask them their race. If non-native call 911. If native call the BIA dispatcher. That phone number took 30 minutes to find. I ended up calling DOI in Washington to find out the BIA law enforcement number. So if a tribal member breaks into your house call 307 332 6880, the semi-secret BIA/tribe police dispatch phone number.

Folks in the rural area bordering the reservation are bracing for this weekend's "celebration" by a cohort looking to take back what they have long felt was their own.

Hill Town Trader
Hill Town Trader

Actually, the former reservation lands associated with Lander and Thermopolis were "sold." and are not in legal question. The lands surrounding Riverton were not "sold." The federal government made lands available for settlement in three phases or divisions by non-indians through a modified homestead process, that by my reading of the subject laws and various briefs associated with this TAS application, didn't really change the boundaries. It merely allowed non-indians to originally lease, and subsequently own, lands within the reservation.

While I think that in real terms reversing 108 years of history is a disaster and will distroy property values and ruin businesses and ranches and lives, I kind of think that the DOJ is narrowly correct. Liberals never care who they hurt, they just cling to their narrow ideals. The folks in Washington really don't care that lives will be ruined.

John316-1954
John316-1954

Why in the world didn't Enzi, Barrasso or Lummis help folks in Riverton on this? Why in the world is EPA entitled to determine as a regulatory matter what the boundaries are of the State of Wyoming, or what our sovereign state's treaty does or does not mean.

Don't we elect people to Congress to prevent this type of nonsense from happening?

Pops
Pops

Reciting the Constitution does not include interpreting said document. We need to leave that to the experts; "The Supreme Court of the United States of America."

Kool Kat
Kool Kat

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The US Supreme Court "only" rules by the Constitution and not as a Legislative body. To me, its hard to believe that a bureaucratic agency as the EPA can cite new laws with Congressional Authority. Since when is Obama's Administration the new law of the Land?

whatever
whatever

KK, do you even read these articles before stumbling all over your keyboard to copy and paste from the constitution?
This ruling is not citing any new laws, it is simply saying the 1905 law transferring ownership of the lands in question is not valid.
Unfortunately for you KK, most legal questions cannot be boiled down to recitations of constitutional amendments, this will ultimately be decided in the courts.

Kool Kat
Kool Kat

Attn what, it is the Congress and only the Congress that can ultimately settle this, or are you a native in celebration, yourself? As the US-EPA has no legislative authority except to ensure clean water, air, etc ...
Perhaps now is the time to abolish the WRIR and let every person make a living on their own, while buying the land like non-natives do. Their sovereign people status means nothing these days when Shoshones and Arapahoes can interfere in the lives of non-native voters, tax payer and citizens.

whatever
whatever

KK, it is frightening to know that people as misinformed as you might actually be allowed to vote. The EPA is not claiming any "legislative authority".
You can speculate all you want about what may or may not happen, or what should or should not happen with the reservation, but this issue will be resolved in the courts, not through any congressional action.
Finally what difference would it make if I were native, would that make pointing out your ignorance any less valid?

Kool Kat
Kool Kat

Attn what, this administration has proven to be as transparent as Fidel Castro's Cuban Regime. No one can trust more changes from this Administration without disastrous results. But I can at least say you don't call non-native "whites", which is a plus for you.

thruth
thruth

well im not surprised at the ignorance I see here, it is Wyoming the false equality state after all. Indian hate is part of the school Curriculum around here.

1. in 1905 the tribes agreed to allow homesteading, the act stated the lands would be held in trust by the gov until sold, these are the non indian farms and ranches you see on the rez..they did not sell the entirety of the lands as a unit, just what was homesteaded on...it is clear law that only congress can diminish a reservation, and it must do so explicitly...congress did not

2. 1909 riverton was founded

3. 1938-9 congress passed the land restoration act...which gave back to the tribe all land it had held in trust in the 1905 act, that did not get sold...with detailed language that stated all lands return do so WITH FULL RIGHTS RESTORED SAME AS THE ORIGINAL RESERVATION...these lands surround riverton completely

4. the congressional, federal, and legal definition of Indian country is all lands WITHIN the EXTERIOR boundary, regardless of land status...riverton is clearly within the boundary of the reservation

5. this epa ruling, and backed by the department of justice simply states the obvious, the tribes reservation was not diminished, never lost its status, and so Riverton, although not owned by the tribes, nor are they claiming they do...IS WITHIN THE BOUNDARY OF THE RESERVATION AND so, Indian country

Hill Town Trader
Hill Town Trader

As that DOJ has thrown its weight behind this decision, appeals will be lost. Tribal efforts to expand jurisdiction and tax powers are likely to expand.

Two troublesome items:
1. The tribal population within the smaller boundaries was about 10,000 overwhelmingly enrolled tribal members; within the large "EPA" boundaries the population is about 25,000, 60% white. Only tribal members can elect tribal elders, so the non-tribal residents were just disenfranchised.

2. In the tribal laws, Title X TERO, sets the rules for operating a business within the outside boundaries of the reservation. In a nut shell:
a. All businesses must pay a TERO fee/tax on gross revenues.
b. Preference must be given to hiring tribal members, whether or not qualified.
c. Preference must be given to Tribal trust and tribe member-owned businesses when hiring contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and professional services.
d. All business must file a training and supply plan to show how the above will be achieved.
e. non compliance will result in fines.

Non-indian business in the Riverton area will have no voice in these rules because the people of Riverton and it's surrounds are NOT ALLOWED TO VOTE.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.