The Eastern Shoshone Tribe has withdrawn its support for a bill that would let Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon negotiate off-reservation hunting agreements with Tribes.
House Bill 83 passed the Wyoming House of Representatives last month after lawmakers heard testimony from Tribal leadership in favor of the proposal.
But when the bill came up in front of the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee this week, state officials said Eastern Shoshone support for the measure has been “rescinded.”
“The Eastern Shoshone Tribe now, instead, opposes passage of this bill,” said Kit Wendtland, special counsel for Gordon’s office. “The governor is sincerely disappointed. (But he) still believes that the bill is worth supporting…. It’s a valuable tool.”
Multiple Tribal members spoke against HB 83 this week, including EST buffalo program manager Jason Baldes, who pointed to several portions of the bill that “really shred Tribal sovereignty.”
Baldes was referring to the restrictions the bill would place on any hunting agreements Gordon might negotiate with Tribes.
One of those restriction would require the Tribe to adopt a game code that “incorporates the substantive requirements and prohibitions” of Wyoming law.
Another says Tribal members who violate the Tribal game code must be subject to enforcement by state authorities.
Those restrictions, and others, “effectively eliminate Tribal sovereignty” and “violate our established treaty rights,” Baldes said, calling it “inconceivable, really, that any Tribe would agree to (this).”
Former state legislator Mark Harris, who has lived on the Wind River Reservation for decades, agreed that the restrictions in HB 83 are causing the “most concern” among Tribal members.
He highlighted the section of the bill that would require Tribes to “accept the authority” of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission as part of any off-reservation hunting agreement Gordon might negotiate.
“That whole section says, ‘We will tell you how to run your program,’” Harris said. “Allowing the state, or any board or commission of the state, to determine how all Tribal members are governed just isn’t acceptable.”
When Wyoming Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, asked Baldes and Harris whether they would support HB 83 if the restrictions were removed from the bill, Baldes said “that moves us a little bit further along to having some support,” and Harris said the change “would certainly allay my concerns (and) address concerns that have been brought to me.”
That potential change to the legislation would not address the concern that former Eastern Shoshone Business Council member Jodie McAdams brought to the committee this week, however.
That concern centers on the failure of Tribal leadership to present the bill proposal to the Shoshone General Council for consideration before allowing HB 83 to proceed to the legislature.
“The Shoshone Business Council took it upon themselves to enter into negotiations … about this bill,” McAdams said. “But they forgot a very important first step, which was to see if this is what our people wanted. …. It needs to go back to the Shoshone General Council, to our membership.”
She suggested that the legislature “wait until our Tribe meets on this before this bill goes any further,” asking why HB 83 would continue to progress through the legislature without the support of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.
Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, later responded to her question by noting that the bill doesn’t specifically refer to an individual Tribe – instead, he said, HB 83 lays the “groundwork” for future conversations the governor might have with any Tribe regarding treaty rights in Wyoming.
He likened it to the process the Shoshone General Council may now undertake with regards to its Business Council.
“The General Council … expressed concern that (the) Business Council is getting out there ahead, and having these conversations, when (the General Council) didn’t approve it,” Larsen said. “We get that. We get that completely. That’s why we have this bill – because we’re the same way. We don’t like the governor getting out in front of the legislature and just, on his own free will, going out and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ We want to give the governor the authority, with some guidelines, on how to have these conversations with the Tribes.”
The Travel committee approved HB 83 in a 3-2 vote this week, and it was placed on General File in the Wyoming Senate on Tuesday, with an amendment proposal from Ellis that would eliminate the restricting language.