POCATELLO — The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are questioning what they described as an “ironic” decision by Pocatello City Council to recently pass a resolution reaffirming the city as a welcoming and inclusive place to live.
According to a September 1 letter from Fort Hall Business Council President Nathan Small sent to Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad, current council members Rick Cheatum, Linda Leeuwrik and Josh Mansfield and former council members Roger Bray, Claudia Ortega and Christine Stevens, the tribes say they have “lived a turbulent and conflicted relationship with the city (of Pocatello) that needs to be recognized and addressed in a meaningful way.”
The letter goes on to detail examples of the turbulent history between the tribes and the city, including environmental disputes involving the FMC and Simplot corporations, and, among other things, economic development disputes involving ownership of the regional airport of Pocatello, the railway rights-of-way and the Northgate Development Project.
In response to the letter, Blad said the city values its relationship with the tribes, describing the relationship as “decent.”
“I don’t know what the tribes are arguing about in the welcome resolution that we passed,” Blad said. “I think what the resolution does is it recognizes that we have all kinds of types of people who live here. I don’t think that excludes the tribesmen at all and in fact that was one of the driving forces behind the resolution actually.
Blad admitted there have been disputes between the tribes and the city over the years, but said both sides have worked hard in the past to mend that relationship.
The tribes argue that “The City of Pocatello and Bannock County often fail to recognize that the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes were, and are, an active player in the development of the city and county because both titles were developed in the original 1867 Fort Hall Reserve. borders.”
“The reservation was created for the exclusive use of Indians and Federal personnel,” the tribes said in the letter. “There is a long history of encroachment and intrusion on the boundaries of the original reservation by railroads, businesses and pioneers which has resulted in political pressures to sell and cede the southern parts of the reservation original.”
Additionally, the tribes say in the letter that the casino, hotel, annual festival held on the reservation, and recreational opportunities account for 40 percent of visitor traffic to the area. With more than 800 employees, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes is one of the largest employers in southeast Idaho, the tribes say in the letter.
Additionally, the letter from the tribes states that “the U.S. government condemned lands set aside for national security during World War II without the consent of the tribes,” resulting in the allocation of the Pocatello Regional Airport land. in the city.
“The airport has been a contentious subject and tribes have repeatedly been excluded from economic development and have been victims of discriminatory clauses prohibiting communication or interaction as outlined in a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration,” the officials said. tribes in their letter. “The tribes demand to be recognized and actively involved in airport management and economic development.”
In terms of environmental disputes, the tribes argue that the city “has sided with industrial giants FMC and Simplot, in addition to surrounding counties, to oppose the tribes’ efforts for environmental protection of lands, waters and the health and welfare of the tribal community.”
The tribes and the city have differing views regarding ownership of railroad rights-of-way on the reservation that are no longer used for railroading purposes, which has resulted in active litigation between the two sides, the letter says. tribes. Cheatum, who is the Pocatello City Council president, declined to comment on the entire letter due to active litigation related to the rail right-of-way dispute.
Additionally, the tribes claim that the towns of Pocatello and Chubbuck with the proposed Northgate development continue “to expand upon the surrendered lands of the original Fort Hall reservation, moving ever closer to the current reservation boundaries. “, which raised tribal concerns about the overuse of natural resources.
“We already have a limited amount of water, solid waste disposal, overcrowded housing and schools in the area,” the tribes said in the letter.
Regarding education, Tribes says more than 800 Native American students attend the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District, “however, our educational relationship with the school board has been fractured and inconsistent.” The tribes cited as an example the district’s reluctance to allow tribal students attending District 25 to choose which school they would attend when the district redraws its boundaries and removes its school of choice policy in 2018.
Additionally, the tribes say the school board failed to consult with the tribes when the district chose to reinstall the historic neon Indian Chief sign in a school district building on Main Street in Pocatello after it was removed from the school district. Pocatello High School when the school changed its name and nickname from the Indians to the Thunder in 2020.
The tribes said it was “disturbing to see the City Council’s uninformed decision regarding the lack of diversity in the Pocatello area and the disparaging treatment of American Indians and tribal government in the local community.” Pocatello City Council recently saw half of its members – Bray, Ortega and Stevens – resign after months of division between two council factions and weeks of ugliness following statements at two July council meetings by Bray regarding the city’s lack of crime and diversity compared to some other communities should consider the staffing level of the Pocatello Police Department.
Amid months-long disputes, Pocatello City Council voted in August to censure Bray and pass a resolution reaffirming Pocatello as a welcoming and inclusive place to live.
The first time a version of this resolution was passed was in October 2020 when the city wanted to go public with its intention to inform the administration of former President Donald Trump that Pocatello was a place that would accept refugees, according to Larry Gebhardt, a former member of Pocatello’s human relations advisory committee who originally pitched the idea.
The original resolution stated that “the city has long been recognized as a place where all of its inhabitants prosper and are essential in contributing to the economic growth of the city and the overall prosperity of current and future generations.”
When the second version of the resolution was presented to City Council last month, the above section was amended to read: “The history and traditions of Pocatello are based on ethnic, cultural, racial and religious working together to build our community since its founding over 130 years ago.
Stevens, at the August city council meeting, questioned how welcoming Pocatello was, citing as evidence what she described as a poor relationship between the city and members of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. on the Fort Hall reservation.
“Regarding the part of the resolution stating that Pocatello has had a warm and welcoming relationship with various peoples, including indigenous tribes, since our inception (is) insulting and a perfect example of white culture rewriting history for make yourself beautiful,” Stevens said. at the August 4 meeting. “Has anyone run this language through the Fort Hall Tribal Council to see if they have the same view of our inclusive and respectful relationship over the decades? If we have such a wonderful relationship with our native community members and neighbors, why do they repeatedly sue us in court? I certainly haven’t heard that the relationship between Pocatello and Native people was great when I was (Principal) at Hawthorne (Middle School) and served a number of Native American students and their families.
In his recent letter, the tribes say they believe having a consensual and harmonious relationship with the city is beneficial.
“Future collaborative efforts can provide accurate information to city, county and local community members about our tribal history, government and contemporary economic issues,” the tribes said in the letter. “The tribes suggest this can be accomplished through a multi-party cooperative agreement and the Business Council is ready to begin discussions.”
Blad said the tribes and the city had met regularly before, but the tribes abruptly ended those discussions.
“For a few years in a row, I’ve met with Fort Hall Business Council Chairman Nathan Small and other government entities, inviting anyone bordering the reservation to attend meetings,” Blad said. “I thought we had made good progress, but the tribes eventually decided that these meetings were no longer necessary. We have done a number of things to involve and recognize the tribes over the years. I offered to make a proclamation about our relationship for the past seven or eight years, but the tribes haven’t been given wording that’s acceptable to them, we tried to put up a sign at the airport acknowledging the tribes and we didn’t get any news from them about it. I think the city has done a lot to get the tribes involved. But then again, we’re always willing to sit down and talk to them and see what else we can do.
Fort Hall spokeswoman Randy’L Teton said she wants the tribes to have a better relationship with the town of Pocatello at the council level, adding that it’s really no one’s fault that talks between the city and the Finies les tribus.
“We understand that we have departments that work really well together, energy and water for example, but it’s at the leadership level where we really need to fix our relationship,” Teton said. “The city of Pocatello needs to foster a better relationship with the tribes. This could happen with regular meetings. We’ve had them in the past, but we’ve always invited them.
When informed that Blad had said the tribes had shut down discussions between the two groups, Teton said, “That has to be worked out between Blad and Nathan (Small). It really wasn’t anyone’s fault that those meetings ended and I know there was a lot going on at that time. It was really difficult to schedule everyone. We need to bring the two entities together.
Teton said the tribes will follow up on the letter sent to the mayor and city council next week and she encouraged President Small to write an op-ed in the Idaho State Journal explaining the relationship between the tribes in more detail. and the city.