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Rep. Hageman talks economic development and health care at a forum with the Northern Arapaho Tribe

A woman in a long purple collared shirt listens on as a woman with dark long hair and a white button-up shirt introduces her and speaks into a microphone. They're standing in front of an empty table with chairs and two cups of water.
Mara Gans
U.S. Congresswoman Harriet Hageman (R-WY) listens on as she's introduced at a forum hosted by the Northern Arapaho Tribe at the Wind River Hotel & Casino.

Last week, U.S. Congresswoman Harriet Hageman (R-WY) traveled around the state and held town halls with local communities in Carbon, Fremont, Washakie, and Hot Springs Counties. On April 25, she held a forum at the Wind River Hotel and Casino outside of Riverton in collaboration with the Northern Arapaho Tribe.

Hageman is the chairman for the House Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs, which oversees all issues having to do with the 574 federally recognized Native tribes in the country. At the forum, Hageman said one of her big priorities is to create more opportunities for economic development for tribes.

“Autonomy, sovereignty, responsibility – all of those things have been very important to me because I think they're important to you,” she said. “You believe, as I do, that you can make the very best decisions for your tribal members, much better than we can make back in Washington D.C.”

The Congresswoman shared that she’s introduced a bill called H.R. 1246, which would allow tribes to lease their trust lands for up to 99 years without having to come to Congress for approval. Right now, those lands can only be leased for up to 25 years.

“For a lot of our tribes, that has been a real challenge for economic development, because companies or businesses or individuals won't necessarily come in with hard infrastructure with a 25 year lease,” she said.

H.R. 1246 has passed through the House and is headed over to the Senate.

Hageman has also introduced H.R. 1532, a bill which would authorize tribes to lease, sell or otherwise transfer property that they hold the title to without the consent of the federal government. However, she said she’s gotten “a bit more pushback” from Secretary of the Interior Bryan Newland and that he’s indicated that they “don’t support that one.”

Hageman also pointed to tribal health care as another one of the top priorities of the Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs. She thinks the federally-run Indian Health Service (IHS) isn’t fulfilling their commitments to Native communities.

“I think that there's been a failure in that regard and we need to hold the IHS accountable to make sure they are actually providing the services that we promised we would provide,” she said.

According to Hageman, the House Subcommittee has held three hearings this year that have explored why the IHS is having challenges in providing health care to tribal members. She said the answers should come from the tribes themselves rather than the bureaucracy of Washington, D.C.

“It is very apparent to me that in the healthcare space, when the tribes run their own facilities and have supplemental funds to build their tribal health care systems, we get better health outcomes,” she said.

After speaking for about twenty minutes, Hageman opened up the conversation for a Q&A with the crowd of fifty or so people.

One member of the audience, who identified themselves as Northern Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne, emphasized the need for more support for tribal communities from the federal government.

“We were put on these reservations and treated like second-class citizens,” she said. “Now I'm raising my children and my grandchildren and I'm trying to teach them that they're not second-class citizens. I’m sharing this with you because we need help, as far as mental issues and housing issues…how are you guys really going to help us?”

In response, Hageman shared that she had a round-table discussion with the Northern Arapaho Business Council earlier that day to talk about those specific issues, as well as intergenerational trauma and education. She said she looked forward to continuing to work with tribal leadership to address those challenges.

“I don't have an answer for why some people may treat you that way. I don't have an answer for all of the [questions] that you've raised, but I can make the commitment to you that I'm going to try to figure these things out,” she said.

The conversation took a heated turn when another member of the audience asked why the tribes were not involved in conversations about a bill sponsored by Hageman, which aims to transfer an inactive hydro-power plant at Pilot Butte Reservoir from the Bureau of Reclamation to the local Midvale Irrigation District. The reservoir is on the Wind River Reservation, about twenty miles northwest of Riverton.

“The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, we’re the senior water users. [The Midvale Irrigation District] are the junior water users, but they always take all the water,” the audience member said.

Hageman responded that the bill is not about the water but rather about the physical plant, which Midvale Irrigation District has indicated that they are interested in rehabilitating and operating. The audience member emphasized that the tribes were excluded from discussions about the transfer, which “needs to be rectified.” Water rights on the Wind River Reservation have long been a contentious issue.

Hageman saidthe bill has already passed the U.S. House and is waiting to be heard in the Senate.

Eastern Shoshone tribal member Wilford Ferris, who previously worked with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, expressed concern about representation at the event from Eastern Shoshone leadership.

“My concern is, I come down here and I don’t see any of my people, my leaders. I saw some of the Arapaho council…but I don’t see any of my councilmen,” he said.

Hageman said that her team had tried to set up a similar forum for the Eastern Shoshone community, but instead ended up meeting with their business council directly.

The Congresswoman’s next town hall is scheduled for Friday, May 31 in Douglas.

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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