Wind River tribes look at legalizing marijuana

CASPER — The Eastern Shoshone General Council met Saturday at Rocky Mountain Hall in Fort Washakie to vote on legalizing medical marijuana on the Wind River Reservation but did not meet quorum. Still, several resolutions were passed — resolutions are law on the reservation — including the authority to move forward with a medical marijuana commission to regulate, oversee and operate tribal-owned cultivation and extraction facilities for cannabis-related products under the Fort Bridger Treaties of 1863 and 1868.

Meanwhile the Northern Arapaho Tribe voted last weekend in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

The Eastern Shoshone General Council will reconvene June 12 to finish the process of voting on whether to decriminalize and legalize medical marijuana on the reservation. A special General Council meeting will also take place on July 24, where General Council members can pick the process back up and not have to start from scratch. The General Council consists of all adult members of the tribe, while the Business Council is made up of elected officials.

“We’re looking at potential tribal members that can be on the cannabis commission,” said Bobbi Shongutsie, an Eastern Shoshone tribal member and medical marijuana advocate. “We have tribal members with law degrees and paralegals (interested) in joining the commission.”

Almost every Eastern Shoshone Business Council member voted against the resolutions passed by the General Council on Saturday, according to Shongutsie. The only resolution the business council agreed on was that no council member, past or present, could sit on the medical cannabis commission.

“It’s OK because those six don’t determine what happens to our tribe,” Shongutsie said. “It’s our whole General Council’s (decision) — the 75 quorum and over.”

Shongutsie said there were exactly 75 people during the first quorum count at 10:35 a.m.; tribal members were trickling in slowly due to COVID-19 procedures. She suspects there were around 90 at one point during the meeting. It was during this time that the tribe was able to pass its resolutions.

Still, as the day went on, tribal members slowly left the meeting. Shongutsie was aware that two graduation ceremonies occurred around the same time as the General Council meeting and personally knew a few people who couldn’t attend because of the ceremonies.

On Thursday, a public informational hearing was held at Rocky Mountain Hall.

Shongutsie and Eastern Shoshone tribal member Austin Hill organized the forum, which drew around 40 people and had presentations from Angel Consultants, Hugelrado Farms, Newe Cannabis, Medical Secrets and legal representation from Leaf Legal PC.

While there was some skepticism at the event — attended by just one Eastern Shoshone Business Council member, Mike Ute — one thing was evident by the end of the meeting: The legalization of medical cannabis could be a huge economic boon to the Wind River Reservation.

“Our casino has us in $50 million debt,” Shongutsie said Thursday. “(Somewhere) around that. Plus, it was closed down for over a year. We need revenue.”

Elaine Weed, who is Eastern Shoshone, attended the public forum and is hopeful that medical cannabis could help create revenue for the Eastern Shoshone.

It can help “preserve our language and culture,” Weed said, “and help with the Shoshone museum and hot springs, where funding disappeared.”

Eastern Shoshone descendant Job Eagle said he is hopeful that funds from medical marijuana can bring back larger powwows and public events he remembers attending as a kid.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe decriminalized medical cannabis on May 8 after meeting a quorum of 150 people. Still, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Jordan Dresser expects the process to move forward slowly. According to Wind River Radio Network, he said the process could take some time.

Ute, the Eastern Shoshone Business Council member, said he saw a few problems ahead — namely the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Code, which states that both tribes on the Wind River Reservation must vote to change the code. Although, after Northern Arapaho Business Council members walked away from the joint business council in 2014, some Eastern Shoshone believe the Northern Arapaho are no longer supported by the Fort Bridger Treaties of 1863 and 1868.

Last year, Eastern Shoshone tribal members were gearing up for a potential vote on the legalization of medical marijuana on the Wind River Reservation, but COVID-19 devastated the reservation and put a stop to public gatherings.

A group called So-go-Beah Naht-Su, “mother earth and medicine” in Shoshone, has advocated for the economic and medical benefits of hemp, CBD and medical marijuana to Eastern Shoshone leaders and tribal members for a few years. Now the group and its supporters can move forward with creating a commission.

“It’s not just Shoshone tribal members that are interested; it’s the whole community,” Shongutsie said.

Wyoming has become increasingly surrounded by states who have legalized marijuana to some extent. Last year, Montana and South Dakota residents voted in favor of legalization, though the South Dakota decision remains tied up in the courts. Colorado is approaching a decade of legalization.