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After two years as chairman of the Northern Arapaho tribe, Jordan Dresser reflects

jordan dresser and biden.jpg
Jordan Dresser
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Northern Arapaho Jordan Dresser takes a candid picture with President Joe Biden in September of 2022 at the United We Stand Summit at the White House. The gathering’s aim was to give federal support to help local communities deal with and recover from traumatic violent acts.

Jordan Dresser was on the Northern Arapaho Business Council as chairman for two years. He has developed quite the resume. He was appointed to a federal solutions committee, named one of the young leaders in Indian Country at large, and he’s a filmmaker. However, he was not reelected to the council. Wyoming Public Radio’s Taylar Stagner caught up with Dresser in a Lander coffee shop to find out what’s next for him.

Taylar Stagner: Can you tell me a little bit about some highlights from being on the Northern Arapaho Business Council, some career highlights, things that you'll take with you into the future?

Jordan Dresser: Some of the highlights I have from being on the Northern Arapaho Business Council where I served as chairman, was being able to create economic platforms for our people. For so long, we've always relied on gaming and all these different things. But over time, they were just not bringing in the revenue that they did before. So I was really proud of the fact that we created the Hemp Commission, and also that we submitted and created a hemp code. And to me, that's such a huge thing. The next step is to submit it to the USDA. And from there, we can grow. And the goal is that the commission is going to oversee it. But the tribe itself, and I'm thinking the Economic Development Committee is the one who can apply for the permit, and they can start growing, and we could just create different things for ourselves.

Another one was helping be a part of where we took over our oil fields. I respect everybody's opinion on that stuff. Because there's people who really don't believe in that. And I respect them for voicing that. But realistically, we're an oil and gas tribe. And it's always been held by somebody else. So for us as a tribe to be able to take it over and do it ourselves is huge. We've made mistakes, you know, we learn as we go, because it's brand new to all of us but I feel like it's gone to a place where we can grow.

TS: You sit on the Joint Commission on Reducing Crime Against Indians. Deb Haaland appointed you. I'm curious, are you still gonna move forward with that platform?

JD: Yes, I'm still moving forward with the initiatives created by Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and with the Not Invisible Act Commission. We're still moving forward and hopefully making recommendations that's gonna be part of a report that's going to be submitted, and basically is talking about how we make our communities better.

And I was very proud of the fact that I pushed for getting us the Ashanti Alert here. And that's a missing person, an adult one. And it's getting really close. And the legislative session is just right around the corner. So I hope they all support it. And that's just something I really was passionate about.

TS: Going back to the MMIP (Missing Murdered Indigenous Person) movement, you've been a very ardent supporter of that here on the Wind River. Are there any future plans to keep being an advocate? In what ways? How are you kind of seeing your position in the future that way?

JD: Well, the key thing is that we have to advocate on the national level, and also at the state level as well. And that's the key thing that tribal members need to understand is you have to have a voice at the state level and the federal level. You have to show up to things, you have to talk to things because that's where the moves make.

A tribal leader told me this recently, and they're like, “If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.” So you have to be there, and you have to advocate.

And so there's so many times I would join the Zoom meetings, whether it be for languages, whether it be for violence against women, whatever it may be, I would join it just for the fact that there needs to be Northern Arapaho presence there. Number two, we gave testimony, and when that part of the testimony becomes part of the record, and therefore, the federal government has to follow up on it. So those are key things you have to do.

So, I think that's something that I want to still be a part of, but also, you know, as a community, what I've come to learn is that it really starts here. We have to hold each other accountable, you know [regarding] MMIP, there's so many factors to it: socio-economic, drug dealing, trafficking, there's so many things that come into play, domestic violence. And we have to get right with ourselves first. But also we have to hold our relatives accountable who do those things. It's a whole storm of things and ultimately, we can't control people. But we can have a say, and we can let people know, "I have boundaries, and you’re crossing them." And I think that's very important.

TS: It's something that we could stand as a state to talk about more for sure. Ahead of the legislative session, I'm curious, can you tell the state of Wyoming a little bit about what they should pay attention to as far as the Wind River and Indigenous rights?

JD: I think the thing about Wind River that has always been detrimental to us, not only at the state level but also at the federal level, is the fact that we get treated as one tribe. And I've seen that time and time again, where it's like, coming to funding or opportunities. It's always like, “This is for the Shoshone and Arapaho tribe.” It's like, no, we're two separate sovereign nations, you gotta treat us as that, and it's unfair, funding-wise. And all those different things when we get lumped as one.

I really want the Ashanti Alert to go into effect. I think that'd be a huge thing for the state. And I think that would be a huge thing for us as Native people, because we live in these border towns, and it's just being able to give protection not only for us, but everybody here in Wyoming. I think that's such a huge thing. So I really hope that the legislators support that and push for that.

TS: Also, on the topic of the legislative session, ICWA (Indian Children Welfare Act) has been discussed at both the tribal joint committee meetings and in Indian Country at large. I'm curious, could you talk a little bit about the importance of ICWA and whether or not we might get a state ICWA law?

JD: The ICWA thing has been a hot topic recently. But that's been a slow burn for a while. I attended an event this past summer, where I was fortunate enough to be there with a lot of Republican legislators.

And they asked, “Does anybody have a question?” And I stood up, and I was like, “What are you going to do to protect ICWA?” And the whole room went silent and then finally, an individual from Oklahoma, stood up and said, “Okay, this is what we can do.”

And so from there, we just [have] been having conversations nonstop, behind closed doors with our legislators and being like, “Hey, if this happens, what are you going to do?” And I'm pretty confident and sure that our legislators here, our representatives get it. And they know that, okay, if that mechanism fails, we have to have a state [law] that's going to catch it.

And it was so complex and we get individuals who get upset with us with different things and in terms of enrollment and stuff like that, but it's like, it's the federal law, and we can change certain aspects of it, but we're at this phase right now where it could be completely stripped down, and that's gonna be so detrimental for Native children.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.
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