By Sarah Elmquist Squires

Managing Editor

After bill sponsors backed away from legislation that would provide the state rights to negotiate Native hunting authority on unoccupied land, the Wyoming Senate flipped and defeated House Bill 83 by a vote of 23-8 on Tuesday.

The bill would have allowed the governor to negotiate Indigenous hunting rights on “unoccupied lands” following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2019 that affirmed them, citing an 1868 treaty that allows Native people the right to hunt, gather, and fish on that land. The bill came as a result of conversations between legislators and the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, which initially supported the legislation. But earlier this month, the Business Council rejected the proposed bill, and when Eastern Shoshone members learned of that initial collaboration, it generated hurt and outcry among the people. 

“People are very upset,” initial bill sponsor Cale Case (R-Fremont County) said, after declaring he’d asked his name be removed from the record as a sponsor. “And I just think this has poisoned the well … I think it’s counter-productive.” 

Senator Affie Ellis (R-Laramie), who also initially sponsored the bill, spoke against it on the Senate floor. She also requested that her name be removed from the roster of sponsors, and called it a “delicate matter.” Initially, members of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council were in favor, she shared, but, “Things have changed since then.” The tribe no longer supports the bill, and “This bill is just not ready for prime time.” There’s no harm in waiting for stakeholders and tribal members to find better ground, she said.

The bill had a majority of support in the Senate just days before it was killed, when it passed the Committee of the Whole by a vote of 18-12. Senate supports then said the bill simply would give the governor the right to negotiate with tribes about off-reservation hunting. Others, including Case and Ellis, said it would hurt relationships with tribes. “The leaders of the tribe asked me not to support this bill. And I’ve heard from many, many tribal members who are very upset,” Case said. 

Although the Eastern Shoshone Business Council ultimately opposed the legislation, tribal members, upset with the council’s initial state talks, balked at the idea of Native hunting rights being curtailed by state government. They’ve organized an Eastern Shoshone General Council meeting on Saturday to push back against the bill and to call Business Council members to task on the issue. Organizers hope they find a quorum of tribal members to discuss the issue, and what they call a general lack of transparency from the Business Council. Some said there may be a call to vote to remove council members from office. That meeting will be held on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Boys and Girls Club, Fort Washakie.