(Riverton, Wyo.) – Several hundred marchers, including students from the Wind River Indian Reservation, elected officials and the public at large joined in a march and rally today to remember Martin Luther King, Jr., and his non-violent campaign for racial equality. The State of Wyoming has chosen to observe today as Wyoming Equality Day.
The march and rally has been held annually since 2003 when a white supremist group, the World Church of the Creator, announced plans to establish a headquarters in Riverton. That year over 700 marchers from throughout the community came together in a united front to oppose that plan, and the “church” never came here.
Most recently, a decision by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency that gave “TAS” status to the Wind River Indian Reservation (Tribes as State) for the purpose of air quality monitoring, including areas ceded by Congress from the Reservation, including the city of Riverton, has aroused passions.
“Many people, especially in Riverton, are afraid of you, afraid of what you want and afraid of what they think you’ll do to them,” said former Riverton Mayor John Vincent in addressing the rally at city hall. “It’s due to a document many of you didn’t even know existed. All kinds of stories have been concocted on what that means for jurisdiction, land titles and such, all kinds of baloney. The TAS isn’t a power grab. Those worries are meritless.”
Vincent was mayor in 2003 when the first march was held. Addressing the students from the Wyoming Indian and Fort Washakie schools who were bussed to the site, “Your love and your tolerance will show us out of this conflict. It’s always up to the young people. I hope you live in good grace and purpose in memory of Dr. King.”
Current Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness also addressed the crowd, and noted that the Unity Blanket presented to Vincent after the first march “is hanging in a place of honor in our council chambers. Warpness said it was unfortunate that prejudice existed in the community, but he said he was confident that “if we do unto others as as you would have them do unto you,” the injustice cycle could be broken. “There is no monopoly on any race” for unfair or unjust treatment of others. “We each have an obligation to teach our children or the cycle will continue.”
Eastern Shoshone Tribal Chairman Darwin St. Clair, Jr., said everyone at the event was here “to walk in the memory of a man who did good things for the human race.” He also read off of one of the student’s hand made posters that quoted the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa. “May freedom bring us together.” St. Clair said his people also have a dream like Dr. King’s. “We have a dream to stop racism and tribalism on our own reservation. We are one, native people walk the dream together,” he said. “When we are united, we are stronger and much more able to change things. When you walk alone, you are alone.”
State Rep. Patrick Goggles thanked the assembled crowd “for the non violence principle that we practice here,” in the model of MLK, Jr. “You are showing how it is done. Talk with those you have differences with, stand united and come together,” he said.
County Commissioner Keja Whiteman said she was there to listen. “Sometimes we can learn as much by listening as talking. I am here to listen,” she said, echoing what the other speakers had said.
Sam Iron Cloud, who attended the first march, said it was “awesome to see everyone come together. We don’t want hate or discrimination here.” Iron Cloud also urged the crowd to “treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Photos by Ernie Over. Click to enlarge.