CHEYENNE—An Indigenous-led push to halt what tribes say is a flawed effort to put the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Herrera v. Wyoming off-reservation hunting decision into action failed Tuesday.

The setback for tribes came during a Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee hearing on House Bill 83 – Tribal agreements to hunt and fish, which would pave the path for Gov. Mark Gordon to negotiate off-reservation hunting pacts with the Eastern Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock and other tribes with treaty-guaranteed hunting rights. 

The Eastern Shoshone and Shoshone-Bannock business councils have come out in opposition to the approach embodied in the legislation. Lawmakers and state officials, however, were undeterred, and much of Tuesday’s discussion during the committee meeting revolved around why the measure should be moved along without Native support. That was a development that Eastern Shoshone member Jodie McAdams struggled to get her head around.

“Why is this bill continuing when it doesn’t have the support of the Shoshone Tribe?” McAdams asked the committee in remote testimony. “Why would the state take it upon themselves now to try to govern us? We’re a sovereign nation. It’s up to us, as a sovereign, to create our own laws.” 

Requests to halt or strip down HB 83 from McAdams and others were not persuasive to the balance of the committee, which advanced the measure 3-2. 

In its essence, the bill, initiated by the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, would build the framework for state-tribal agreements for off-reservation hunting and fishing rights — rights that are not subject to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s licensing and season regulations, according to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. That case, Herrera v. Wyoming, confirmed Crow tribal members’ treaty rights to hunt “unoccupied lands.” Now, other tribes, like the Eastern Shoshone, are trying to exercise their own treaty-enshrined off-reservation hunting rights — and the state and tribe sought to work it out cooperatively. 

But the cooperative effort fell apart. Shoshone Business Council Chairman John St. Clair, writing to Gov. Mark Gordon, withdrew his support for HB 83 on February 3. 

Jason Baldes, Eastern Shoshone tribal member and Intertribal Buffalo Council board member, holds his grandson Aabriel in October 2021. Baldes and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe have come out in opposition to the Wyoming Legislature’s House Bill 83.  (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

While no current Eastern Shoshone business council members addressed the Senate committee on Tuesday, enrolled member and bison restoration advocate Jason Baldes did take the time to weigh in. He listed off provisions in HB 83 that “essentially shred tribal sovereignty” by giving the state of Wyoming too much authority and oversight. Among other harmful elements Baldes took exception to: Clauses in the legislation that subject non-licensed tribal members to state prosecution, and requirements that the tribes align their hunting, fishing and trapping seasons with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s seasons. 

“All of these effectively eliminate tribal sovereignty,” Baldes said. “[They] leave the governor very little, if any, room to actually negotiate. These [measures] violate our established treaty rights for the Shoshone Tribe.” 

Baldes found it “inconceivable” that any tribe would agree to all of HB 83’s provisions. It was “striking,” he said, that so many members of the Legislature support the bill, given that it undermines tribal sovereignty. 

House Bill 83 co-sponsor Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne), a Navajo Nation member, tried to address sovereignty-related concerns by doing away with all the preconditions Baldes and other tribal members cited. Those types of parameters can instead be incorporated into the actual agreements the legislation would enable, she said.  

But Ellis’ effort to amend the bill, removing the restrictive provisions, failed 2-3. 

Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne) at the Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 general session in Cheyenne. (Megan Lee Johnson /WyoFile)

Shoshone-Bannock tribal chairman Nathan Small also called in to oppose HB 83. 

“I’ve never entered into any agreements that would constrain or otherwise impede our management authority under the treaty,” Small said, “and we will not engage in a negotiated agreement as laid out in the proposed legislation.” 

Although tribal opposition is mounting, the now-embattled legislation still has its champions in the statehouse. Prior to the Eastern Shoshone withdrawing support, HB 83 was on the fast track to becoming law — it was the top legislative priority for Game and Fish and was co-sponsored by the Senate president, speaker of the House and a high-ranking member of the far-right Freedom Caucus. There’d been only one vote against the bill as it navigated the House. 

Primary sponsor Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander), who presented the bill to senators Tuesday, is among those still pushing for its passage. 

“There’s nothing in the [bill’s] language that requires the tribes to do anything,” Larsen told WyoFile. “We’re just trying to establish a foundation that allows the governor to negotiate with the tribes so that they can exercise their treaty rights. Without that authority, how do we get there?” 

House Bill 83 is scheduled for its first reading on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. If the tribes can hunt the State of Wyoming at will, why can’t Wyoming residents hunt the Reservations at will? What’s fair for one entity should be fair to another. Between the Crow and Wind River, there is over 4.5 million acres. But, yea, agree with the others, no way will the Shoshone (who have 1868 federal treaty rights) come to the table with Gov. Mark. They don’t need to

  2. OFF TO FEDERAL COURT WE GO??? Doesn’t the legislature realize that a Federal action on tribal hunting rights is superior to subsequent State of Wyoming legislative actions. The treaties of 1868 were entered in PRIOR to Wyoming being a state!! If anything the Shoshones have a strong argument that they have the superior and maybe exclusive hunting rights on the 1868 designated lands.

    Consider the tribal water rights – the Federal court awarded the Shoshones 500,000 acre feet of superior 1868 water rights in the Wind River drainage area – these rights are vastly superior to any water rights appropriated by the State of Wyoming – State Engineers Office – and please note again, they were granted to the Shoshones by the Federal government – an action in and of its self – superior to ant State of Wyoming appropriated water rights. And, I emphasize again, these are 1868 actions by the Federal government.

    I wouldn’t mess with the Shoshones – they are in the dominant position on this matter and would kick Wyoming’s butt in Federal court. What if the Federal court ruled they have exclusive hunting rights on the unoccupied Federal lands; and that, whites would need a tribal hunting permit on unoccupied Federal lands clearly designated in the treaty of 1868.

    Back off legislature – your fighting a battle you can’t win.

  3. Before white settlement Wyoming was home to healthy herds of buffalo deer, elk ect. Tribes understood diplomacy with each other would create plenty of game for everyone. White expansion and aggression killed everything off to make room for cattle and farms. Now that same madness is in charge of Wyoming politics and that’s what the tribes have to deal with.

  4. Typical. About all that can be expected given what folks here choose to “lead” and supposedly represent them.

  5. This is nuts. Our legislators are a pretty sad bunch, especially the leadership (sic). Why they would pass legislation counter to tribal leadership recommendations and buy-in, is absurd. They honestly expect the tribes to negotiate with the governor? Yes there must be middle ground. Yes me must manage the resources intelligently and cooperatively. I am certain there are ways of achieving that without alienating the first nations. Sad

  6. Perhaps the most “inconceivable” thing is that the tribes think the state of Wyoming is going to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to manage wildlife for the tribe to harvest any time they want without regard to established wildlife conservation principals. The only reason there is any wildlife left anywhere, is because 120 years ago the state started managing wildlife for long term conservation. The tribes have to work with the state. Tribal members have to be subject to rules when hunting off reservation. If they won’t, then the governor may as well open it up to everyone, with the exact same rules tribal members have. When all the wildlife is gone, perhaps then the tribes will understand everyone has to work together to conserve wildlife, and the habitat it needs to survive.

    1. As a sovereign nation, the tribes don’t have to do anything they don’t want to.

      The lecturing of the tribes on wildlife conservation is hilarious.

  7. This is so wrong and should not be approved. The Shoshone Tribe does not approve this bill and it should not go forward. They have Tribal Sovereignty, and it needs to stay this way. The Senate does not have the right to change hunting regulations on the reservation.

  8. alaskan’s are allowed to hunt according to tradition !
    including endangered species.

    why is there a issue with a supreme court ruling ?
    indian’s have a ruling that hunting without permit on all land is allowed according to treaty. !

  9. Larry Hicks should be happy that his wish of 5 million dollars for the Mexico border was denied. The “rainy day fund” will need every dollar.

    If the idiots leading our state try to get involved in legal disputes with the tribes, they will lose everytime.

    How many millions has the state lost in legal cases and lost revenue from casino’s?

    Bigotry and dishonesty don’t pay in the end.

    1. Chuck: you’re right if Wyoming ” gets involved in legal disputes with the tribes, they will lose every time. “

  10. It is unbeliveably shocking that the Wyo legislature would try too pass legislation that would supposedly help the Wind River Tribes over there objections. Does anyone smell a Rat?
    Just the thought of this or any state legislature trying do this to a sovereign nation is beyond comprehension..