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Eastern Shoshone Tribe Moves Toward Off-Reservation Hunting

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The Eastern Shoshone Tribe has formed a committee to study and draft regulations for off-reservation hunting by tribal members. Tribal leaders announced the plan to state legislators this week during a meeting of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations.

"We're willing to engage in government-to-government discussions with any governmental agency that has oversight on unoccupied lands that are subject to our treaty rights," Eastern Shoshone Business Council Co-Chairman Leslie Shakespeare said in an interview.

The tribe's announcement comes five months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Crow Tribe's treaty hunting rights were not extinguished when Wyoming gained statehood in 1890.

Shakespeare said that the ruling in Herrera v. Wyoming also re-affirmed his tribe's right to hunt on "unoccupied lands of the United States," as laid out in the 1868 Fort Bridger Treaty with the federal government. But he acknowledged that the ruling does not provide a clear definition for "unoccupied lands."

"There's been some varying thoughts on what that is, if it's federal lands and forests and things of that nature, or if it includes state lands and other public lands," Shakespeare said.

That issue, as well as the off-season hunting conviction of the Crow man at the center of Herrera v. Wyoming, is currently making its way through a district court in Sheridan.

Shakespeare added that the Eastern Shoshone Business Council is close to reaching a memorandum of understanding with leaders from the Shoshone-Bannock and Crow Tribes, who also claim a treaty right to hunt off-reservation in Wyoming, about their collective understanding of what constitutes "unoccupied lands."

Credit Eastern Shoshone Tribe
The Eastern Shoshone and Shoshone-Bannock Business Councils convened in July to discuss their off-reservation hunting rights.

The committee tasked with regulating off-reservation hunting is chaired by Eastern Shoshone tribal citizen Michael Garvin and includes Business Councilman Western "Gus" Thayer, a former Wind River Reservation Game Warden. Shakespeare said that the committee is focused on sustainability and conservation.

"We know that climate change poses a big threat to our natural resources," Shakespeare said. "We can have all these agreements and want to exercise our rights but if we don't have an eye on that portion as well, it may be all for naught."

The Casper Star Tribune reports that lawmakers at Monday's meeting didn't express any major concerns with the tribe's plan, and that Sen. Affie Ellis of Cheyenne said she was "optimistic that we're going to figure this out."

By expressing an early willingness to work with lawmakers and other state agencies on the issue, tribal leaders hope they've laid the groundwork for civil negotiations on off-reservation hunting.

"We hope that by doing our due diligence and being methodical in our approach that we'd head off any type of challenges that would end up in court," Shakespeare said.

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

Savannah comes to Wyoming Public Media from NPR’s midday show Here & Now, where her work explored everything from Native peoples’ fraught relationship with American elections to the erosion of press freedoms for tribal media outlets. A proud citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, she’s excited to get to know the people of the Wind River reservation and dig into the stories that matter to them.
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