An Exit Interview With Eastern Shoshone Business Councilman Leslie Shakespeare

Nov 5, 2019

Credit Leslie Shakespeare

Eastern Shoshone Business Council Co-Chairman Leslie Shakespeare announced his resignation on Friday, November 1. Shakespeare said he's leaving for a position outside of tribal government that he "couldn't pass up," though he's not able to announce what that position is just yet. 

Before he was elected to the Business Council in 2016, Shakespeare served four years as an officer on the Wind River Police Department and two years as the Eastern Shoshone Tribe's liaison to the governor's office. In an interview with Wyoming Public Radio's Savannah Maher, he reflected on the progress he says the Tribe has made over the years.

Savannah Maher: What are some accomplishments that stand out to you when you look back on your three years on the Business Council?

Leslie Shakespeare: One of the things that sticks out in my mind is from my transition from liaison to the Business Council, I was working with the state legislature on the ["Indian Education For All"] bill. During that transition I helped draft it, and then when I made the switch over, I was able to advocate for it. Because I know the school systems for 20, 30 years were advocating for this, and it finally came to pass. And to me I think that's monumental because younger generations are going to be exposed to Native history, Shoshone history, that they weren't required to do so in the past. I think that'll make a major impact on how we treat each other and our relations on and off the Reservation. Other areas [include] strengthening our partnerships with WYDOT, the Department of Family Services, and then our relationship with [the Northern Arapaho Tribe], our neighbors who share the reservation. When I first got elected, the relationship was frayed. There weren't meetings. There were a number of issues with shared programs, with our shared resources that weren't being looked at. Three years later we have agreements, we're making sure we have funding for our shared programs. I think it's gone a little bit under the radar but we probably have over 100 jobs that were created just with the shared programs. So we put a lot of people to work.

SM: And what have been some of the biggest challenges since you joined the Council?

LS: Well, as I tout all the successes in a lot of those areas, a lot of those areas came with their own unique challenges. I know just a year ago we were dealing with an [Office of Inspector General] report that said we owed [the federal government] over $5 million, the tribes collectively. And being able to work through that process, and show that the tribes did not mismanage that funding, that we didn't have to pay back that large amount and to settle that report and all those findings was a big challenge. And I know we got a lot of media exposure to that, and it wasn't always good. I remember three part stories that came out, just negative in how the tribes mismanaged funds which, after looking at it, it wasn't true. We came back and we satisfied all the findings and I think we got a two paragraph story saying that we were doing what we said we were doing. Challenges like that with infrastructure, with our roads and road maintenance and our irrigation system. Trying to be creative and finding ways to make sure that's funded and make sure we hit all those critical areas.

SM: Is there anything you've worked on that you'll be watching and hoping that your colleagues see through once you've left the Council?

LS: One of the major areas that we've been working on that you don't see the fruition of all the hard work behind the scenes is our Eastern Shoshone Business Park in Riverton. We're in prime position now to start having businesses being located there. We hope to have an agreement formalized with the Riverton Medical District group for probably a new hospital. It'll be a great economic diversification for the tribe and its funding streams.

SM: So when you leave your position, that will trigger a special election. I wonder if you have any advice for someone in the Tribe who might be thinking about running to fill your shoes.

LS: The only advice I would give is be prepared to work and to have thick skin. Because no matter what you do, no matter what decision you make, you're not going to able to please everyone. Just a couple weeks ago, we had a public meeting and an individual stated to us, "One day, I'm going to be up in your spot." Well, that one day is coming up very shortly here. So I encourage anybody and everyone to take the opportunity that's presented here. It's a lot harder than it looks.

SM: Do you think that the Eastern Shoshone Tribe is in a better place now than it was three years ago when you got elected?

LS: I think just based on the things I mentioned earlier, on our relationships with our neighbors [the Northern Arapaho Tribe,] with the state, and we're in a good financial position. Before, we had delinquent audits, we had a number of findings. Now we have a good solid foundation to be able to diversify and go out for these different funding opportunities whether it be through self-governance or grants.

SM: Thank you so much for taking some time to talk with me, and good luck.

LS: Thank you.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.