Tribal News

The Wind River Indian Reservation is as beautiful as its melodic name. It's one of the largest Reservations in the United States, spanning over 2.2 million acres and contained within the boundaries of the state. Its scenery ranges from high grassland to some of the most majestic and least populated mountain ranges. The Wind River Range is a renowned destination for historians, climbers, hikers, and visitors who come to absorb the culture.

Wyoming Public Media serves the Greater Wind River Reservation, Ft. Washakie, Lander, Riverton, Shoshone, Dubois, and Thermopolis on 90.9, 90.5 and 91.3. Our reporters tell the stories of the Reservation, focusing on issues that affect the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes. We also take stories from our Mountain West Bureau reporters who tell the stories of Native Americans beyond our borders. They reflect the lives of people on the Reservation and beyond, their issues, history, hopes, and ambitions. 

Indian Lands in the United States
Credit Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Department of Energy announced Friday that water being provided to residents of the Wind River Reservation is safe to drink.

Last week, DOE officials confirmed that tap water in four households on the reservation showed elevated levels of uranium nearly twice the legal limit.

This week, the DOE’s April Gil said in a statement that the elevated levels were inaccurate, the tap water has been retested, and is safe for consumption.

Last week, the Department of Energy announced that uranium at nearly twice the legal limit had been found in the tap water of four households on the Wind River Reservation. The event marks another incident in a long and troubled history in the area.  Wyoming Public Radio's Tristan Ahtone brings us this report on the find.

A group of Pavillion residents says Wyoming officials betrayed them by delaying the release of information tentatively connecting hydraulic fracturing with groundwater pollution in the area.

An Associated Press investigation shows that Gov. Matt Mead convinced the Environmental Protection Agency to delay its draft report on the contamination by a full month. Mead and other state officials used the extra time to try and debunk the findings before they could harm the oil and gas industries.

Tribal officials on the Wind River Reservation continue to seek answers after the Department of Energy announced that uranium was found in some residents' tap water. DOE officials announced last week that data collected in the fall indicated that four households near a former uranium waste site had levels of uranium nearly twice the legal limit. Dean Goggles is executive Director for the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission. He says tribal members are currently faced with more questions than answers.

The Bureau of Land Management has released a proposal to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal lands. Under the proposed rules, companies that use fracking would need to disclose chemicals used in the process after the job was finished, and would have to address issues related to waste water and drill holes.

Kathleen Sgamma is a spokesperson for Western Energy Alliance. She says the proposed regulations would be bad for business, which she says already faces excessive bureaucratic hurdles.

Tribal officials on the Wind River Reservation continue to seek answers after the Department of Energy announced that uranium was found in some residents' tap water.

DOE officials announced Wednesday evening that data collected last fall indicated that four households near a former uranium waste site had levels of uranium nearly twice the legal limit.

Dean Goggles is executive Director for the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission.

Tristan Ahtone

An update to this article, which was published in 2012: according to a press release by the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the elevated levels of uranium at that time were due to a lab error. The water system is tested monthly and is currently safe to drink. If test results showed any signs of contamination, the public would immediately be notified.

A new independent review of the E-P-A study on hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion confirms the link between water contamination and fracking. The review was requested by a conglomerate of environmental groups.

One of the criticisms of the E-P-A study was that it was poorly conducted science, and therefore, put forth unreliable conclusions. But the hydrologic consultant who did the review, Tom Myers, says the E-P-A did goodwork.

With an initial Supreme Court vote on the controversial Affordable Care Act expected at any time, a big question remains for Native American communities: what if the entire act is struck down?

Wyoming’s Northern Arapaho Tribe is being allowed to capture and kill two bald eagles for religious purposes. The permit comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which has issued similar permits for golden eagles in the past, but never before for bald eagles. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tristan Ahtone reports.

In recent years, the number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in American rose more among Native Americans than any other ethnic population .

Native Americans make up one percent of the caseloads nationally, but in Wyoming, they make up four times the national average.

Robert Foley is President of the National Native American Aids Prevention Center. He worries that dealing with the epidemic in states like Wyoming where the general population is small, could be a huge obstacle in the future.

After two years of review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has issued members of the Northern Arapaho tribe permits to capture two live bald eagles for religious purposes.

Last year, the Northern Arapaho sued Fish and Wildlife Service, charging the agency with violating tribal members rights to religious freedom.

Matt Hogan is with the Fish and Wildlife Service. He says while the application may sound strange to non-natives, the use of eagle parts is very important to tribes.

A recent report shows that 2010 revenue from Native American casinos grew a little over one-percent, down significantly from previous years.

The Indian Gaming Industry Report shows that in 2008 revenue growth ran about 39-percent… and in 2009 it shrank to nearly 10-percent. The new numbers rank Wyoming 15th in the nation, compared to 28 other states that have Indian gaming.

Alan Meister is the author of the report. He says despite the drop in growth, future improvements to revenue may be on the way.

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During this year’s Legislative session, lawmakers proposed a joint resolution known as the Riverton Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action bill. Tailings are waste left over from mining operations. In this case, the tailings in question are from uranium mining on the Wind River Reservation. The tailings have caused groundwater contamination, which many residents believe has led to health problems.

State, tribal and federal officials have agreed to work collaboratively in Pavillion to do further sampling and collect more data in their water monitoring wells. The move is expected to push back a final report on a possible link between water contamination and hydraulic fracturing in the area until later this year.

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With only a week to go until the legislative session is over, Wyoming lawmakers are reviewing a number of bills, including a joint resolution requesting Congress to provide for increased monitoring and funding for remediation of the Riverton uranium mill tailings site. Tailings constitute waste left over from mining operations. Last year we brought you a story about the site in which the Department of Energy released data showing that uranium levels in the area had spiked as high as 100 times the legal limit, and while legislative action on the issue may sound good, it’s bringing up a lot of questions, and anger. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tristan Ahtone reports.

With problems over water contamination in the town of Pavillion, and possible actions to remediate a contaminated uranium site on the Wind River Reservation,  tribal officials have pushed to be the lead agency in both situations, as the areas impacted are within the boundaries of the reservation and impact tribal trust assets.

The Wyoming Senate has given initial approval to a Joint Resolution asking Congress to increase funding and monitoring at the Riverton Uranium Mill Tailings remediation site.  Mill Tailings at the site, on the Wind River Reservation, constitute contaminated materials left over from the former Susquehanna-Western uranium mill that operated in the 50’s and 60’s.

Senator Cale Case told the Senate that the federal government had expected the site to naturally clean itself up after the company ceased operation in the area.  However, he says that hasn’t been the case…

Senate addresses Pavillion water with money

Feb 20, 2012

The Wyoming Senate has approved adding 750-thousand dollars for a water system to help residents of Pavillion whose water may be contaminated. The E-P-A has indicated that a number of residents should not drink water from their wells do to high levels of contaminants. 

Senator Eli Bebout asked for the funding in the omnibus water bill, but senator Charles Scott questioned why the State needs to pay for the water and wondered how bad it really was. 

Bebout said that for some, the water is a problem.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is honoring a youth program on the Wind River Reservation for its efforts to prevent substance abuse and the spread of HIV.

This is the first time a Native American group has received a Voices of Prevention award. The Wind River Tribal Youth Program offers a range of health and social programs to kids from the Northern Arapaho Tribe. 

Executive Director Donna Trosper says substance abuse is a big problem among young people in the area.

At a meeting with Pavillion residents this morning, Governor Mead said he wants to continue providing people with safe water.

Pavillion is at the center of an EPA investigation about whether hydraulic fracturing has contaminated the town’s drinking water supply. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease recommended that residents refrain from drinking the water AND shower with their windows open, and as a result, area oil and gas producer EnCana, and the state of Wyoming, are now paying to have bottled water delivered to residents.

In the wake of a congressional hearing over a draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency that links hydraulic fracturing with water contamination in the town of Pavillion, the Wind River Tribes are pushing to take a bigger role in the investigation.

EPA

Tomorrow, the U-S House of Representatives’ Energy and Environment Subcommittee will hear about the Environmental Protection Agency’s ongoing investigation of groundwater contamination in the town of Pavillion. However, Pavillion residents say they were not invited to testify.

In December the EPA released a draft report on its three-year water contamination investigation. It indicated that ground water in Pavillion’s aquifer contains compounds that are “likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.”

New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show that people in Wyoming reporting to be American Indian in combination with one or more races grew 24%.

In 2010 over 13-thousand people in Wyoming reported American Indian as their only race. However, those who chose multiple races - American Indian in combination with something else – was nearly 19-thousand. That’s up from 15-thousand a decade ago.

The American Indian Studies program at the University of Wyoming says that they have contracted architect Johnpaul Jones to develop a proposed American Indian center at U-W.

Jones has worked as lead-consultant for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, as well as numerous other cultural centers, museums and parks.

Judith Antell is Director of American Indian Studies at UW.

Some Native American farmers and ranchers in Wyoming could be receiving checks and debt forgiveness in the coming year in the wake of a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
 
It’s estimated that Native American farmers and ranchers lost over 770-million-dollars in revenue between 1981 and 1999, because the USDA denied them loans and services based on their race. Many Native Americans also lost their land in the process.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it is extending the public comment period on the draft Pavillion ground water investigation to March 12. It's an attempt to allow all stakeholders and the public additional time to review the report and its related documents. On Tuesday, the EPA invited the public to nominate scientific experts to be peer reviewers of the draft report. Nominations will be accepted through February 17th. In December, Gov.

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In the class action lawsuit Cobell vs. Salazar, plaintiff Elouise Cobell accused the Federal Government of mismanaging nearly 150-billion dollars in royalties owed to Indian landowners due to the loss and destruction of records. The government agreed to a $3.4 billion dollar settlement – and government data estimates there are up to 8,000 possible beneficiaries here in Wyoming.

Wind River Reservation

On Monday, the Federal Court of Appeals reinstated a claim filed by the Wind River Tribes against the federal government which accuses the Department of Interior of mismanaging mineral royalties for the two tribes.
 The Shoshone and Arapaho claims were initially filed in 1979. Since then, most have been adjudicated and settled, however, one big piece remains: oil and gas leases initially established in the early 1900’s.
 Allegedly, the Department of Interior managed those leases, then illegally transformed them into new leases in the 1930s.

Encana Oil and Gas says the Environmental Protection Agency is moving too fast with its draft analysis of ground water contamination in the town of Pavillion, and has asked the EPA to suspend the public comment period.

In a letter dated January 6th, Encana oil and gas asked the EPA to suspend the public comment period until the agency’s plans were better explained and additional critical data could be disseminated.

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