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Eastern Shoshone educator Ivan Posey shares why he’s running for state House

A group of people stand around a man speaking into the mic.
Central Wyoming College
Eastern Shoshone tribal member Ivan Posey speaks at the 2nd Annual Teton Powwow in Jackson in 2022. The event is hosted each year by Central Wyoming College, where Posey currently works as the tribal education coordinator.

Eastern Shoshone tribal member and veteran Ivan Posey recently announced that he’s running for House District 33, which includes part of the Wind River Reservation.

Posey is currently the tribal education coordinator at Central Wyoming College and previously served on the Eastern Shoshone Business Council. He’ll run against current Representative Sarah Penn (R-Lander) this fall.

Wyoming Public Radio’s Hannah Habermann spoke with Posey about why he’s throwing his hat in the ring.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Ivan Posey: I thought long and hard about it. It wasn't an easy decision and it was something that after I made my mind up, I decided to go. I just think that I could represent our district a little better than how it's being represented now.

It's a unique district because the tribes have so many unique issues associated with governance and related to the state. When I was on the Business Council all those years, we may not have had a good relationship with the state at times, but there are some issues that we worked together on. We agreed to disagree.

The process now that I see in Wyoming politics is either “for me” or “against me.” I'm not saying that across the bar, but I'm saying that we see that part of politics where there’s no dialogue, there's no middle ground to meet and do the best for districts and the state of Wyoming in general.

But what actually helped me make my mind up [about running] was reading the last legislative budget session and seeing that there were still people that are moderate and willing to work together, and that have the best interest of Wyoming in mind.

You know, I'm not only a tribal citizen or citizen of my tribe. I'm also a citizen of the county and the state, and nationally.

As the original – I shouldn’t say Wyomingites, but we were here before the state was even in existence – I think I'd be bringing a little more and a little better representation, whether it's in health care, law enforcement or veterans issues. I think it’s a big canvas with a lot to paint on.

Hannah Habermann: Given your background in education and in tribal government, what issues are you excited to focus on with this campaign platform and if you were elected?

IP: I have a few issues that I would like to move forward. But education is always, always in the forefront, whether it's funding or what it's more appropriate for our kids to learn in this day and age to make them successful.

I know on the reservation, there are some aspects of cultural methods of learning. I think we could even reach out to the Hispanic population in Jackson and the Bighorn Basin and see what they have in terms of cultural methods of teaching.

With veterans issues, I’d look forward to working with the [Wyoming Veterans] Commission if I’m elected. We host coffee with veterans here once a month at the college and we had a VA (Veterans Affairs) representative yesterday. There was some discussion of how there are still issues with the VA and the delivery of health care. I know that's a federal issue for the most part, but I know the state plays a big part in taking care of our veterans also.

Another issue that is important to me is just the cooperation and seeing what we could work together on.

HH: Back in March, Navajo state Senator Affie Ellis announced that she won't be running again, opening up the possibility of a state legislature with no Native representation. From your perspective, why is it important to have tribal representation on the state level?

IP: We’re the only reservation in Wyoming. A lot of the time we’re a microcosm of issues that happen statewide and they affect us. It's important. I still personally really believe that there's a lot of education and there's a lot of voids pertaining to what regulations pertain to the reservation. There's water issues. There's jurisdictional issues.

For the most part, people in Wyoming – and I'm not saying all of them – some really don't know what the reservation is besides just a square in the middle of the state. And I think it's really important that we have representation to not only educate people about the sovereign status of both tribes here, but if it's good for the state, it should be good for the tribal citizens also.

HH: Looking ahead to the campaign trail, how do you hope to plan to engage community members both on and off the reservation?

IP: I intend to introduce myself. I intend to meet with ranchers and the people who just live outside the reservation. I realize it's a large district, but Wyoming's a small place, so you just run into people in the grocery store, or at certain events. We have several events that happen here at the college. I just want to start visiting with people. I want to hear what the issues are, what they think are important, so I could be better prepared as I move forward in this campaign.

HH: Thinking about the current composition of the legislature being very white and male and conservative, what are some ways in which you would hope to reach across the aisle and collaborate with folks?

IP: I identify myself as a conservative Democrat. I'm not far-left and I’m obviously not far-right. But I am conservative in many areas and I think my record in tribal government shows that. Hopefully I'm a good listener.

But I wouldn't have announced my candidacy if I didn't see a glimmer of hope of people working together. It's okay to disagree. That’s life, but there are some areas where there should be some middle ground, especially when it affects so many other people besides your personal decision.

I think what we see coming into Wyoming, in my own opinion, is rubber-stamped legislation from other parts of the country and other states, and I'm not too sure if that's good for Wyoming.

I think Wyomingites, for sure, we're not going anywhere. We're going to be here for a long time. But I think there's a lot of issues with our students leaving the state once they're getting educated, the “brain drain” as they say. That’s something that's been at the forefront for many, many years.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
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