Select Committee on Tribal Relations discusses solid waste, tuition waivers, housing, more as potential interim topics

    The Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations met this month to review topics they’d like to discuss in the interim before the 2025 legislative session.

    The first topic proposed during the March 5 meeting came from Wyoming Rep. Sarah Penn, R-Lander, who has been working with the local Tribal members who approached the committee previously with concerns about child placement decisions being made through the Eastern Shoshone Department of Family Services.

    “I’ve had the ability to meet with them and others and try to kind of investigate some things and see where we’re at,” Penn told the committee. “We want to make sure we’re cognizant of what our role is here, but I just was thinking, given our recent Indian Child Welfare Act codification in Wyoming, it seems reasonable to me that we get a better understanding of the Tribal/state DFS relationship, because it’s somewhat complex.”


    She suggested the committee could spend some time during the interim learning how “that relationship (is) supposed to work” so they can ensure the state is “doing what we are expected to do” and the “roles are where they need to be.”

    “We (could) have an opportunity to learn from our state DFS and maybe talk with representatives of Tribal DFS and just learn more about that relationship,” Penn said.

    Solid waste

    Other suggestions for interim committee topics came from Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s Tribal liaisons James Sorrels (Eastern Shoshone Tribe) and Anita Roman (Northern Arapaho Tribe) who both mentioned issues regarding sanitation and solid waste management on the Wind River Reservation.

    Penn said she would support that topic, noting that, “after working with the Tribes on that particular issue,” she sponsored a bill this year that would have established an illegal dumping remediation grant program for government entities in Wyoming, including the state, a city, a town, a county, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, the Northern Arapaho Tribe or the cooperative Tribal governing body.


    The bill failed introduction in the House last month in a 28-33 vote, with some representatives expressing concern about the proposed source of funding for the new grant program.

    Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said his “concern” was that a state agency would be in charge of administering the grant program, which would be open to Tribal governments on the Wind River Reservation “where that state agency has no jurisdiction.”

    “The (Environmental Protection Agency) has jurisdiction on the reservation, and that agreement has to be with them and the state – not the Tribes and the state,” he said.

    During this month’s committee meeting Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, pointed out that there is also “a relationship between Tribal governments and the county government with respect to solid waste management” to keep in mind.


    “It is a difficult arrangement sometimes for people on the Wind River Reservation,” he said.


    Roman said the NAT would also be “open” to discussing the idea of tuition waivers for Tribal students at the University of Wyoming – an idea NAT spokesman Travis McNiven mentioned as well, pointing to examples of Tribal tuition waiver programs that have been instituted in other states.

    McNiven said several members of the Northern Arapaho Business Council have already discussed the topic with UW representatives, who said it would be important for the state to provide funding to support a tuition waiver program.


    “The council did want and ask me to bring it up … here today for the committee to consider,” he said.

    Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, said the tuition waiver discussion could fall under the interim topic of “education,” which could also cover K-12 issues on the reservation.

    Housing, sales tax

    Another topic Roman brought to the committee was the “public health issue” of housing and homelessness, and again, McNiven echoed her comments, pointing to rising home prices and a lack of available and affordable housing statewide – and “specifically within Fremont County.”

    Sorrels said the EST representatives he spoke with asked whether the committee would discuss the state’s sales tax collection and distribution process on the reservation again this year, though he noted that the Wind River Tax Commission has authority in that area.

    “That tax commission is allowed to talk to the state tax commission about what an (agreement) would look like,” Roman explained. “Then they will bring it back to the (Tribal) councils and discuss from there what that would look like.”

    Other topics discussed during this month’s committee meeting include:
    -Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons
    -law enforcement
    -public safety
    -cultural resources
    -transportation infrastructure
    -Tribal court

    The committee co-chairs will prioritize the topics and submit them to the Wyoming Legislature’s Management Council for review.

    The Management Council will meet April 1 to assign interim committee topics.

    For more information, call the Legislative Services Office at (307) 777-7881.


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