restricted access 26. The Northern Arapaho Tribe
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226 twenty-six The Northern Arapaho Tribe in january of 1992 our firm received an unusual communication in the mail: an invitation from the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming seeking law firms to apply as the tribe’s general counsel. We had never seen anything like it. In our experience, this was not the way tribes went about selecting a tribal attorney. Steve Chestnut wrote a response indicating our interest and telling the tribe who we were, which prompted a return phone call and some discussion. We were invited to the reservation for a personal interview. We did a little homework on the tribe before meeting them. The Northern Arapahos lived on the Wind River Indian Reservation in north-central Wyoming, but their occupancy was highly unusual; they shared the reservation with another tribe, the Eastern Shoshones. Though there was no formal boundary delineating territorial ownership of the reservation’s 2.2 million acres, the Northern Arapahos lived mainly on the eastern half and the Shoshones on the western half. The Northern Arapahos outnumbered the Shoshones 7,500 to 4,200, according to the 1990 census, but the tribes shared ownership of all reservation resources equally. The two tribes had entirely separate tribal governments and government centers—the Northern Arapaho center was at Ethete on the east side, and the Shoshone’s was at Fort Washakie on the west side. Each tribe governed its own members, but where matters affected both tribes, the two governments met in joint session. This curious state of affairs had resulted when the northern arapaho tribe 227 the United States settled a destitute and landless band of Northern Arapahos “temporarily” on the Shoshone reservation for the winter of 1877–78—and there they remained. In 1938, the United States paid the Shoshones $4.5 million to compensate them for the land occupied by the Arapahos.1 The two tribes have peacefully coexisted on the Wind River reservation. What made the Northern Arapahos unique for us was their income from oil and gas. While we had some experience in this area, we were not specialists in oil and gas law. But the tribe’s immediate legal problem was not related to those resources. They were involved in a major water rights case against the state of Wyoming and a large number of nonIndian ranchers and farmers. We did have some experience with Winters rights and Walton rights—the water rights that had been decided by U.S. v. Winters (1908) and Colville Tribes v. Walton (1989)—though we felt at a disadvantage compared to firms with more expertise in oil and gas law and water rights. On the other hand, there were not many law firms that had the experience as well as the commitment to Indian tribes that we did. Steve Chestnut, Rich Berley (another partner in our firm), and I flew to Riverton, Wyoming, for our meeting with the Northern Arapaho Tribe. We met first with a selection committee in a motel in Riverton. It didn’t go well. We learned that three firms were under consideration, the two others with considerable experience in oil and gas. We also learned that we would appear before the entire tribal membership the following morning at the tribal gym in Ethete, in what turned out to be something of a beauty contest. Representatives of each of the three firms would make presentations and answer questions. We would draw straws to determine the order of presentation. The membership would then vote on which firm they wanted. At the gym the next morning, we met our competition. Although we exchanged cordial remarks, everyone felt awkward. Lawyers rarely experience such personal competition for a client. We drew the last position and waited in an outer room for the other two firms to finish. Since we couldn’t hear what they were saying or what the audience response was, we were left to speculate about how the firms were received based on how much time had elapsed. Finally, we were called in. The gym was full, with about two hundred Arapahos in the audience. I spoke first: 228 the northern arapaho tribe Thank you very much for having us come out here. No matter how it turns out, it’s been a good experience and we’re proud to be one of the three firms you people thought were best suited to you…I’m the senior member of my firm. I began that firm twenty-eight years ago. There are...