By: Sarah Elmquist Squires
Candidates Keenan Groesbeck, Karen Returns To War, Dean Goggles, Stephen Fast Horse, and Teresa His Chase offered their visions for the future of the Northern Arapaho Tribe during a forum Monday night, all seeking a seat on the Northern Arapaho Business Council. Candidate Preston Moss arrived late to the event after handling some family affairs, and Lloyd Goggles shared his thoughts on several questions remotely while also attending to a family issue.
Candidates were queried on their thoughts about housing needs, particularly for tribal members who find themselves without a home following an eviction. All agreed that the tribe should work to secure emergency housing such as a hotel room initially, and also spoke to the need to get to the root cause of the member’s problems as well. “We also need to look at the long-term,” shared Returns to War. “Our families need places to go. We really need to look at a facility where we can place people to help them transition back in and get independence.”
How, moderators asked, can the Business Council assist tribal members in becoming homeowners? Groesbeck said it was important to start young, and that students should be taught about credit scores in school, because low or no credit becomes a barrier to securing loans for homes and vehicles.
Lloyd Goggles weighed in on the housing questions remotely: “Homelessness is a universal problem,” he stated. “I’m part of a group that’s addressing it with a social justice class that I’m taking … It’s one of those things that doesn’t just take a group, it takes the rest of the community as well.” He said tribal leaders needed ideas from all corners of the community to address housing, and community members needed tribal leaders willing to listen.
Mentorship programs, support programs for kids and even grandparents, and community meetings are needed to help the Northern Arapaho Tribe grapple with the epidemic of drugs and alcohol addiction, Fast Horse said when asked about his knowledge of the problems. He said he’d stayed away from the vices himself after watching family members pass due to addiction. “We as a community need to come together to fight this epidemic, not just the leadership of the tribe, but the whole tribe,” he said.
Dean Goggles said all of the tribe’s families had seen the devastation caused by addiction. “We see young people hanging around City Park … they should be working, they should be doing something else,” he shared. “We need jobs, we need something different for the younger people to do. It’s almost like a lost generation.”
Several candidates pointed to the White Buffalo program, which provides housing and support for tribal members battling addiction, as a program that needs support. Returns To War said that program, along with vocational rehabilitation for people in treatment, assistance with housing, “Those are the resources that we have to help our own people when they are ready to begin that journey,” she stated. Tribal leaders need to work hard to secure and maintain funding for those vital programs, she continued.
Fast Horse said transitioning from a tribal health care program to the umbrella of Wind River Cares helped secure more funding, and using the Covid camp trailers for the White Buffalo program were examples of ways the tribe could leverage more funds to better support tribal programs.
Lloyd Goggles said as a recovering alcoholic, former police officer and judge, he has some insight into the support that can be given people struggling with addiction. “I tell people that what works for me might not work for them. Part of getting well in recovery is finding what works for the individual,” he shared. Whether a person needs support in-person, or a daily phone call, he said he understands because he’s walked in those shoes. “That’s the greatest gift that I have for sobriety is empathy,” he said.
His Chase, when asked about the need for public transportation, suggested a feasibility study could help gauge the community’s needs and how they might best be met. Fast Horse said a study is underway now, and the 477 program, Wind River Cares program, and Wind River Hotel and Casino offer some transportation assistance either to medical appointments or to travel to work.
Business Council candidates were questioned about their thoughts on transparency, and whether they would be accountable and available to the tribal members they represent. Dean Goggles said there are so many resolutions on the books, and there ought to be work done to digitize them and make them available online. Fast Horse said a consultant is looking into that possibility now.
A resolution outlining punishment for those accused of harassment that allow tribal payments to be withheld for six months from those accused of harassment was discussed with candidates, with both audience and prepared questions asking the panel whether they agreed with the policy, along with how they would respond to criticism and personal attacks if elected.
“If you’re going to be a tribal leader, you have to take the heat,” said Groesbeck. He said he felt the situation with payments being withheld was handled poorly. “I feel that they were targeted and their rights were violated as Northern Arapaho people. I think those three individuals have the right to file a grievance to the tribe.”
Returns To War agreed the payment issue was not dealt with well. “People, when they are angry, it’s out of frustration generally because they are not being heard,” she said.
Dean Goggles said he felt the policy might need to be revisited. People can criticize him, he said, but directing anger to his family posed a different story.
“Everyone has the right to free speech,” said Fast Horse. “But no one has the right to slander people.” He said the resolution was already in place when he was on the council, and he said the resolution was in place to not just protect tribal employees and the Business Council members, but also the tribal members themselves. “When you try to divide the people, I think that’s where it becomes a major issue.”
“I personally think that by withholding their money, I think that our tribal members were stripped of their rights as tribal citizens … I think an ethics committee would be good for everybody,” shared His Chase. Tribal leaders needed to return to having an open-door policy where they are accessible to tribal members, she added. “I do believe that you do need to put your foot down when things go too far … You just need to remind everybody that our way of life is love and respect.”
Moss joined in the forum, and said he’d watched his grandfather on the council for 20 years, and that criticism comes with the territory of being a tribal leader. “I just look at it like this: If somebody’s talking about me … I pray for that person.” He said he agreed with Groesbeck, and the withheld payments were unfair. “That’s messing with their livelihood.”
Business Council candidates also fielded questions about what resources the tribe could tap to spur economic development. Groesbeck pointed to oil and gas revenue, and said solar energy projects could help the tribe become more self-sufficient. The casino, he said, is just a band aid, but energy production and timber could go a long way toward a more sustainable future.
The Wind River Energy Commission is charged with examining opportunities with oil and gas, along with renewable projects. With the scenic mountains, she said, the tribe was in a good position to promote tourism as a source of revenue — to build a lodge, maybe even a ski lodge.
Dean Goggles said oil has always been the tribe’s bread and butter, and that there were more opportunities to partner with the Eastern Shoshone tribe in joint venture projects. The clinic is doing really well, he added. “We can be creative to get more jobs.”
Fast Horse said natural resources are divided between the tribe and its Eastern Shoshone neighbors, and stated that agricultural business needed to be promoted more on the reservation. Going after lumber and developing a lumber mill could both spur economic development and lend jobs and carpentry skills to tribal members, he said.
“Our children are our most valuable resource,” shared His Chase. Teaching them history, language, and culture would reap positive benefits in the future. “If we bring our children up in a positive light then we will have a good future for our tribe,” she said. The tribe’s economy needed to be studied to ensure developments were aimed at keeping funds on the reservation rather than in neighboring towns.
Moss pointed to lumber as a resource that could be further developed, along with agriculture and renewable projects like wind turbines. “You just have to believe in your people,” he said.
The Northern Arapaho General Election is slated for November 17. Business Council candidates who will be on the ballot include Lee Spoonhunter, Jordan GoesinLodge Dresser, Kim Whiteman Harjo, Karen Returns To War, Lloyd Goggles, Preston Moss, Michael Yellowplume, Dean Goggles, Stephn Fast Horse, Keenan Groesbeck, Teresa His Chase, and Jared White Bull.