Eastern Shoshones to pay in-state tuition at Idaho colleges

Orville St. Clair and Harmony Spoonhunter at the Eastern Shoshone Cultural Center in Fort Washakie, with an exhibit detailing the terms of the 1863 treaty between the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the US government. (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)
By Ron Feemster
May 21, 2013

The Idaho state board of education acknowledged late last month that members of the Eastern Shoshone tribe have the right to pay in-state tuition at all public colleges and universities in Idaho.

A historical map of tribal lands at the time the 1863 treaty was signed. (Courtesy Utah American Indian Digital Archive — click to view)

By state law, the board of education must allow students from Native American tribes to pay in-state tuition if the “traditional and customary tribal boundaries” were at one point within what is now the state of Idaho, according to Tracie Bent, chief planning and policy officer for the board. Idaho became a state in 1890.

The Eastern Shoshones became the sixth tribe to be granted in-state tuition under the Idaho law, but the first with nearly all of its tribal members living outside the state of Idaho.

“They just had to provide the proof,” Bent said.

The proof of Shoshone tribal boundaries that mattered was a 150-year-old treaty between the U.S. government and the tribe, which ceded most of southeastern Idaho, in addition to parts of present-day Utah and Wyoming, to the tribe as part of an agreement to cease hostilities.

“This was a peace treaty,” said Orville St. Clair, a former member of the tribal business council. “Not all tribes have that. The treaty showed that maybe a third of Idaho was Shoshone territory. It’s the recognition of our people being original residents of that area.”

Darwin St. Clair, Jr., the current chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, called the new agreement a victory for tribal sovereignty. “It’s a big step in our government-to-government relationships,” he said. “I’m really glad that they helped provide affordable education for Shoshone people.”

Darwin St. Clair, who attended Valley City State University in North Dakota, among other colleges, said he wished he had known about the in-state tuition in Idaho when he was starting college in the 1980s. “I would have gone to Idaho State if I had known it was that cheap,” he said.

The relative size of tribal territories in 1863 and today. The green field is the 2.2 million-acre Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming. The white field within the red is the present-day Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Reservation, also known as the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, near Pocatello, Idaho.

Orville St. Clair and Harmony Spoonhunter, education director of the tribe, traveled to Idaho to present their case to officials. Both St. Clair and Spoonhunter are graduates of Idaho State University. Both paid in-state tuition under a separate agreement with ISU that lapsed sometime after Spoonhunter graduated in 2002.

St. Clair, who earned an ISU business degree in 1974, remembers being part of an American Indian club on campus that put on powwows and educational events. He credits former ISU president Bud Davis with extending in-state tuition to tribal members attending the university.

It is unclear exactly when or why the agreement allowing Eastern Shoshone members to pay in-state tuition was set aside. But St. Clair says he became aware that students from the tribe were paying out-of-state tuition while serving on the business council about seven years ago.  A tribal member complained that her son was paying out-of-state tuition at Idaho State. That is when the discussions with the university began.

Spoonhunter said the discussions became fruitful when the tribe contacted Johanna Jones of the university’s Native American academic services office and Laura Woodworth-Ney, the provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“Woodworth-Ney was the one who suggested contacting the state legislature,” St. Clair said.

Jones declined to comment because she did not have her superiors’ permission to speak to the press. Woodworth-Ney referred questions to the state board of education.

New Opportunities

The tribe graduated 26 students from local high schools, boarding schools and other institutions off the Wind River reservation in 2012. The count for 2013 is not final, Spoonhunter said, but all except one of the 2012 graduates would have paid out-of-state tuition in Idaho if the new agreement had not been reached.

“It gives us more options for our students,” Spoonhunter said. “It gives us more opportunity with those universities to choose from: Idaho State, Boise State and the University of Idaho.”

The new agreement will cut tuition costs for Eastern Shoshones by about two-thirds. At the University of Idaho, in-state tuition is $6,524 per year, according to the university website, while out-of-state students pay $19,600. At Idaho State, resident tuition is $6,070 per year while non-residents pay $17,870.

“In-state tuition gives us more options for our students.” – Harmony Spoonhunter (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)
“In-state tuition gives us more options for our students.” – Harmony Spoonhunter (Ron Feemster/WyoFile — click to view)

To qualify for in-state tuition, students must present proof of tribal membership when enrolling in an Idaho college or university, Bent said.

“This change maximizes our tribal educational dollars,” St. Clair said. The tribe makes educational funds available to students in good academic standing, according to their financial need. Each student can receive up to $5,000 per semester for Bureau of Indian Affairs colleges and $7,500 per semester for other universities, under tribal law.

“That money will go much farther if we are paying in-state tuition,” St. Clair said.

Although students can attend any college or university in Idaho, many Eastern Shoshone students are likely to choose Idaho State, in Pocatello.

“The Shoshone-Bannock reservation is part of Pocatello,” St. Clair said. “The Shoshone-Bannock tribe, which is our brothers and sisters, literally, is located about eight miles away. We have a lot of relatives there. That makes it basically a home away from home.”

St. Clair said it was often easy for students to make the transition to ISU, in part because they could make connections in a welcoming Native community.

“In Laramie, that is not always the case,” said St. Clair, who also attended the University of Wyoming briefly for summer-school classes.

Merceline Boyer, of the tribal education committee on the Shoshone-Bannock reservation near Pocatello, said the tribe puts on events that may help Eastern Shoshone students feel at home.

“We have powwows and stuff like that,” Boyer said. “And they may have relatives here. There was a lot of intermarriage between Eastern Shoshones and the Shoshone-Bannocks.”

The five other tribes whose members enjoy in-state tuition under the same Idaho statute are the Coeur d’Alene, the Kootenai, the Nez Perce, the Shoshone-Bannock, and the Shoshone-Paiute.

— Ron Feemster covers the Wind River Indian Reservation for WyoFile in addition to his duties as a general reporter. Feemster was a Visiting Professor of Journalism at the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore, India, and previously taught journalism at Northwest College in Powell. He has reported for The New York Times, Associated Press, Newsday, NPR and others. Contact Ron at ron@wyofile.com.

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  1. Chief (Judge) Henry Clayton has written the new Laws for the Indigenous Peoples of the world for the United Nations that is in effect today. Everything that the indigenous people formerly owned must go back to those people. If I can help, feel free to contact me. I have a copy of the new laws.