(Riverton, Wyo.) – Fremont County Commission Chairman Doug Thompson was the first presenter at a Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) workshop for elected leaders, law enforcement officials and, as it turned out, the public and media this morning at Riverton City Hall. Thompson said the purpose of such a workshop, in his experience, “was not to defeat the other side, but to have an open factual forum to talk about the consequences, some unintended and some intended, of Federal Indian policy.”
The motives of CERA, and its partner the Citizens for Equal Rights Foundation (CERF), however, were questioned by local Northern Arapaho Tribal representatives who called the group “Anti-Indian.” An investigation of the group by the Equality State Policy Center referred to CERA as being “anti-sovereignty” focused. See a background story here.
The workshop was first advertised as being closed to the public and media, in advance of a weekend workshop open to all at the Fremont Center, but the City of Riverton said the meeting had to be open to the public since it was in a public building. Anyone who arrived at city hall today could enter the meeting, where several literature tables were set up featuring the group’s newsletters and brochures.
Ironically, Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness and City Administrator Steven Weaver, who authorized use of the council chambers for the group, were absent at the session, reportedly attending a meeting in Casper.
A petition drive launched by St. Stephens resident Donelle Warren asks the the City of Riverton and Fremont County to “stop welcoming anti-Native American groups like CERT/CERA into our community.” By noon on Friday, the petition had gained 38 signatures. (The petition had a typo, the two groups are CERF and CERA). See the petition here.
In introducing the workshop this morning, CERA Vice Chairman Buch Cranford said he became involved with the organization when a California Tribe attempted to locate a casino in his home town of Plymouth, Calif. He said the community successfully blocked the casino after a 12 year battle. “The government is over reaching, out of control and it effects every person and citizen in the United States,” he said during a benediction. “My issue is with Federal Indian Policy, Land to Trust, and Casinos.”
Cranford did say that his group’s use of the city council chambers “is no endorsement by the City of Riverton for CERA.”
Thompson said some of the issues that he had questions on were about land to trust, treatment of reservations as states, the definition of sovereignty, and jurisdictional issues which he said were all complex and sometimes contradictory. “If you don’t ask the questions, you don’t ferret out the unintended consequences.” He also urged those in attendance, and those not at the meeting, “let’s just discuss facts in a respectful manner. We might not always agree, but we will respect each other.”
As he closed his remarks, Thompson wondered aloud, “in the principal of government, you have a voice in that government, the government that rules you. How much say will non-tribal members have under a tribal jurisdiction?”
The chair of CERA, Elaine Willman of Hobart, Wisconsin, told the audience that EPA’s ruling that treatment of the reservation as a state is a “benign sounding thing,” but said it has huge consequences and opens the door for regulation of not only air quality, but water quality fungicides, pesticides and other issues by Tribes. “Treatment of a tribe as a state is absolutely unconsitutional,” she said. “It is defacto creation of a state within a state, it replaces state authority, is superior to state authority and that’s the constitutional and legal conflict. More of us need to stay noisy about it.”
Willman also said the EPA has “no jurisdictional shoes, Congress never granted authority and it’s been slapped down in the courts many times.” She said the EPA’s December 2013 decision made it look like they “not only have shoes, but jackboots.” She also said decisions such as this are made behind closed doors and then published in the Federal Register without any notice. “We are all citizens, all one people, Indian Policy should’ve gone away in 1924 from they gained the right to vote.”