CHEYENNE — A dispute over the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s push for a federal permit to kill bald eagles for religious purposes has prompted the Eastern Shoshone Tribe to assert that it has older, deeper ties to the central Wyoming reservation the two tribes share and that its opposition should prevent killing the birds there.
The Eastern Shoshone Tribe filed a written argument in federal court in Cheyenne last week, objecting to the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s plan to kill eagles on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Shoshone were already on the reservation when the federal government settled the Arapaho there in 1878.
The dispute highlights the difficulty of having two separate tribal governments on a single reservation. While other reservations in the country are home to more than one tribe, officials have said the Wind River Indian Reservation is the only case where two tribes with separate governments share common ground.
“The Eastern Shoshone Tribe is the only tribe with aboriginal ties to this region, including all areas within the Wind River Indian Reservation,” wrote Kimberly Varilek, attorney general for and member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.
“And the Northern Arapaho Tribe can neither demonstrate that same interest, nor any other reason why their permit can only be satisfied on the Wind River Indian Reservation in complete disregard of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe’s interests, beliefs, traditions and practices,” Varilek wrote in the brief she filed Friday in federal court in Cheyenne.
Varilek said Monday that the Arapaho could seek permission from the state of Wyoming to kill eagles outside the reservation.
Although the Shoshone use eagle feathers in their own ceremonies, Varilek said, “There’s not a process in the Shoshone beliefs to kill eagles.” She said the Shoshones traditionally captured live eagles, took some feathers, and then released the birds.
William C’Hair, a Northern Arapaho elder, said Monday that his response to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe’s argument that it has deeper ties to the Wind River Reservation is that the Shoshone received full payment long ago from the federal government for the one-half interest in the reservation that went to the Northern Arapaho Tribe.
C’Hair said the federal government also docked payments it made to the Northern Arapaho Tribe for the loss of ancestral lands to recoup the cost of payments to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. “So actually, we bought and we own the reservation. Bought and paid for,” he said.
C’Hair noted that the federal government holds other reservation lands in trust for other tribes throughout Indian Country. “The federal government just loans them the land for them to reside on,” he said. “But the Northern Arapaho Tribe owns this land. That is their property. And that is the way that I would respond.”
The Northern Arapaho Tribe sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last fall for a permit to kill bald eagles on the reservation for the tribe’s Sun Dance. This spring, the federal agency issued a permit allowing the Arapaho to kill two eagles, the first of its kind ever issued to an American Indian tribe.
In specifying that the Northern Arapaho could only kill eagles off the reservation, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated it had conferred with the Eastern Shoshone and learned that tribal members were opposed to eagles being killed on the reservation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service stated in March that the Northern Arapaho wouldn’t need permission from the State of Wyoming to kill eagles off the reservation with the federal permit. However state officials maintain state law prohibits killing eagles off the reservation.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne is presiding over the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s case against the federal agency. He signed an order in May allowing the Shoshone to intervene as a “friend of the court.”
In his order allowing the Eastern Shoshone to enter the case, Johnson said the federal permit provisions left the Arapaho Tribe boxed in.
“(T)he permitted take area expressly excludes lands within the Wind River Indian Reservation, which is the only place in the State where Wyoming law criminalizing the taking of eagles does not apply,” Johnson wrote. “The permit thus confoundingly allows the Northern Arapaho Tribe to take eagles only on lands where doing so is a criminal offense....”
Johnson noted that the federal permit would require the Northern Arapaho Tribe to follow state laws. Accordingly, he wrote, the federal permit “offers no real permission to take eagles at all.” He has set a hearing for arguments in the case for Sept. 28.
The federal government in recent years prosecuted Winslow Friday, a young Northern Arapaho tribal member, who killed a bald eagle for use in the tribe’s annual Sun Dance without a permit. Despite the tribe’s legal support, Friday pleaded guilty after his case was transferred to tribal court, and he was ordered to pay a fine.
Andy Baldwin, lawyer for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, said Tuesday that he believes the Shoshone Tribe’s legal brief missed the point entirely. “This case is about the constitutional right of Northern Arapaho tribal members to the free exercise of religion,” he said.