Anti-sovereignty group brings its twisted message to Riverton

by Kerry Drake
— June 17, 2014

The Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) took its long-running road show to Riverton last weekend to tell members of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes they’re living in a war zone, and it’s here to help them.

Kerry Drake

Speaker after speaker, CERA told the few Native Americans and anyone else who paid the 10 bucks to attend its three-day seminar at the Fremont County Fairgrounds that the tribes are being used as unsuspecting pawns by the federal government to take away the equal rights of all Americans.

Nobody who lives here seemed to buy it. For someone with a particularly dark sense of humor, perhaps part of the message was funny, like the time a speaker described the nation’s treaties with Native Americans as nothing more than “historic memorabilia.”  Mostly, though, it was offensive.

Saturday morning, three Northern Arapaho tribal members sat together in the back row after listening to Lana Marcussen, CERA’s legal adviser and prime architect of the group’s strategy to win its “war” with the United States government in court.

“She was constantly saying, ‘It’s not your fault,’ and she was staring at us, the only three Native Americans in the room,” said Jolene Hubbard of Beaver Creek.

“What I find interesting is they say, ‘We don’t have a problem with Native Americans, we have a problem with the federal government,’” said Ken Trosper of Ethete. “Everything I’ve read [in their brochures] and heard said here today is against the tribes and sovereignty.”

Waylon Oldman of Riverton said he’s followed the group’s tactics as it has visited reservations throughout the country for several years. “I wanted to see if their interpretation of history has gotten better, but if anything, it’s gotten worse. They use ‘facts,’ but I’ve gone through some of their literature and they add stuff to say what they want to say. Their interpretation of everything is so …” Oldman said, pausing as he searched for exactly the right word.

“It’s so twisted,” he concluded, and his friends nodded in agreement.

“They act like all their problems are because they live near reservations,” Trosper said. “Hey, we didn’t ask them to move here. They chose to live here. This reservation was here long before the state of Wyoming was here.”

Riverton became CERA’s new ground zero last December, when the Environmental Protection Agency ruled in favor of the tribes’ request for “Treatment as State” status for its monitoring of air quality. The agency examined the historical records and determined the city of Riverton is within the Wind River Indian Reservation’s boundaries.

The state of Wyoming’s immediate reaction was to flip out and sue the EPA. They were independently joined by Devon Energy and the Wyoming Farm Bureau, and the three claims were consolidated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit into a single lawsuit.

While the rhetoric had calmed down some in the past six months, the attitude has prevailed among state and city officials that the agency has committed a horrible mistake that must be corrected. The tribal members believe the EPA looked at the history of the reservation and the treaties signed with the federal government and got it exactly right.

The Equality State Policy Center, a coalition of groups advocating for good government issues, recently published a policy paper that noted that in a Wind River Basin water adjudication case, the Wyoming Supreme Court held the 171,000 acres in dispute — including the city of Riverton — are within the reservation. That decision was appealed to federal court.

Elaine Willman, a CERA board member, told about 50 people gathered at the fairgrounds that the Treatment as State process is a ruse to allow the federal government to use the tribes as a way to regulate areas in ways that violate the rights of all Americans, including Indians. She said while the Constitution recognizes treaties as the supreme law of the land, it does so after stating that the document itself and Congress are mentioned before treaties. In her mind, at least, this makes treaties less valuable “supreme laws.”

In fact, Willman doesn’t seem to give treaties between the U.S. and tribes any value at all, since she dismisses them as “historical memorabilia” — even though she claims to “cherish history.”

In a handout at the meeting, Willman compared citizens in communities near Indian reservations to battered spouses. “I believe that most Americans fundamentally desire to appreciate and respect each other, including tribal governments, just as the battered spouse desires to love a spouse,” she wrote. “But it’s like trying to love a porcupine; one must do so very carefully, and the love is seldom — if ever — reciprocal.”

Later, the CERA leader added, “No conduct has occurred that warrants the menacing, intrusive and interfering actions and behaviors tribal leaders are imposing with increasing intensity and frequency against their neighbors.”

So much for the group’s “the tribes are our friends” strategy.

In attorney Marcussen’s rambling 70-minute talk about the EPA’s Riverton decision, she mentioned her family came to America in the 1600s and one of her ancestors married an Indian. In her mind, this apparently makes her a “Native American,” though in her attempt to identify on some level with tribal members, she acknowledged she is not an American Indian. Maybe some of her best friends are, but not in this crowd.

What particularly offended Hubbard was the contention of CERA officials that everyone, including Indians, should just be proud to be Americans.

“I’ve never denied I’m an American, I’m proud to be one,” she explained. “But we are also members of the Northern Arapaho tribe, and we are just as proud of that as we are to be Americans.”

Two security officers stood near the doorway, but they didn’t have to quell any disturbances among the small, quiet crowd. Most people from Riverton stayed away, and Hubbard said she’s glad they did. “We don’t need outsiders to tell us how to live our lives,” she said.

Speakers from CERA consistently noted they were happy to hear all of the opposing viewpoints, and that everyone can learn from others. The strange thing is there were no opposing viewpoints expressed because everyone was either a CERA member or a guest speaker at the invitation of the group. That included Fremont County Commission Chairman Doug Thompson who talked in general about “federal overreach” and let others address the issues about his county.

“They all keep saying, ‘This open dialogue is great,’” Trosper said. “What dialogue? It’s just them speaking. They won’t let anyone else talk.”

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Before the natives & before the white man was Adam & Eve & God told them take of the meat & the herb bearing seed for these I hve given you ALL THINGS . not you get this you get that & hey you dont get anything.

  2. Thanks for sharing an eye witness account. Perhaps a follow up public discussion on these recent presentations and another chance for the community to turn out and ask tribal, EPA and local governments what the issues are, is there common ground or is this just political? What was the reason for asking the EPA to revisit the boundary issue in the first place? Can we work together as a shared community in a shared landscape? I liked the Mending Fences presentation the Arapaho’s hosted. Constructive, proactive thinking. Lets not politicize everything into the ground.