By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
The sale of alcohol is prohibited on the Wind River Indian Reservation, but the Northern Arapaho Tribe is considering making an exception for drinking at the reservation’s largest casino.
The entire voting-age population of the Arapaho tribe is expected to gather in the General Council, or legislative meeting, on Saturday to vote on a proposal to legalize the sale of alcohol at the reservation’s largest business, the Wind River Hotel and Casino.
If tribal members vote to legalize liquor sales at the casino, which sits on the reservation’s border near Riverton, 15% of liquor revenue would go to drug rehabilitation services; and another 2% tax would go to the tribal government, according to the council’s agenda.
But there are more hoops to jump through.
The Northern Arapaho share a code of law and order with their reservation cohabitants, the Eastern Shoshone tribe. To change Common Law, the Shoshones may also have to approve the change — but that point is disputed.
“In the opinion of the (Northern Arapaho) legal counsel, the General Council has the final say” on Arapaho legislation, Matthew Benson, spokesman for the Northern Arapaho tribe, said in an interview Friday with Cowboy State Daily.
Benson further noted that the liquor sales exemption, if passed, would only apply to the restaurant area where bets are placed on live events and in its restaurants.
Shoshone management had no comment Friday morning on the proposal. The Shoshone also operate a currently derelict casino, the Shoshone Rose.
Even with Shoshone approval, the Arapaho tribe would then have to obtain a casino liquor license from the Fremont County Commission, in accordance with federal laws that state that state licensing requirements apply. to tribes that choose to legalize liquor sales.
The commissioners were divided on whether the license should be granted.
“If that’s what they want, yeah, let them go,” said Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones, adding that the idea has surfaced several times in the past but has never been approved. by the tribes.
“I’m curious if they will. They haven’t done that in the past,” he said. “But if they vote on it and that’s what they want to do, I would have no reason to deny it.” Jones clarified that he could only speak as a commissioner.
Jones’ colleague, Commissioner Jennifer McCarty, also expressed doubts that the resolution would make it to her desk, but said she would likely deny it if it did.
“They won’t pass (the two) tribes, first of all,” McCarty said. “They turned it down every time because they don’t want alcohol there.”
McCarty said she wasn’t sure about the rest of the board, but “I would veto that.”
A high frequency of alcohol and substance abuse is “well documented” in Native American communities, according to Indian Health Services. McCarty referenced those statistics.
Travis Becker, chairman of the commission, said he would not speculate on how the vote would go.
“I won’t touch that one,” he said.
Commissioner Larry Allen could not be reached amid phone service issues, but left a voicemail saying he was unaware of the effort.
Commissioner Clarence Thomas did not respond to voicemails seeking comment.
In the federal law prohibiting the sale of alcohol in “Indian Country”, Congress made an exception for soldiers of the United States Army.
Anyone acting on behalf of the military, in accordance with federal law, may “introduce fiery spirits” and other liquors into Indian country without penalty. Additionally, any Army employee who “barters, gives, or supplies (alcohol) in any way…to an Indian” cannot be penalized under the Federal Liquor Prohibition.