The U.S. government only allows Native Americans to register with one tribe. But what happens when two tribes share one reservation for over a century? Two women grapple with how that affected their identity growing up.
What’s it like to grow up realizing you’re from two different tribes? That’s a complex question when you grow up someplace like the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming, the home to both the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho tribes.
Reporter Taylar Stagner is Eastern Shoshone and Cheyenne-Arapaho from Oklahoma and grew up in the town of Riverton on the Wind River.
“The [tribes] have sort of a symbiotic relationship to one another, and it’s a very unique situation because I’m not sure what other reservation has two tribes both trying to assert their sovereignty over the same reservation,” Taylar explained. “And I know that the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone have some animosity from time before the reservation was set up like this.”
That animosity between the Arapaho and the Shoshone actually goes way back. They’ve been warring rivals since the farming Arapahos were pushed out of the Midwest during European contact to compete for bison on the Great Plains. Then, when the U.S. army started forcing tribes onto reservations, the Wind River Valley was given to the Shoshones, and originally it was called the Shoshone Reservation.
But then, in 1878, in the middle of winter, the U.S. army was moving the Northern Arapaho into Wyoming in search of a reservation. But so many people began to starve and become sick that the Shoshone Chief Washakie agreed to let the Arapaho stay on their reservation. But just until spring.
And… the U.S. government never made good on their promise to create a new reservation for the Arapaho people. So, they had to stay.
Against both tribes’ wishes, the federal government decided they’d share the land, and now every pebble on the reservation belongs to both tribes.
“But since then,” Taylar said, “there’s been a lot of inter-marrying and a lot of effort to put away past differences and to really cohabitate this wonderful reservation.”
And Wind River is wonderful: alpine mountains, big fishable rivers, hay meadows, plentiful wildlife. But you can’t say you’re from the Wind River tribe; there’s no such thing. And the federal government doesn’t recognize dual citizenship. You can only claim one tribe, even when you’re from someplace like Wind River Reservation where the two tribes are intricately entwined.
And Taylar said, that makes it a challenge to get to know yourself. She talked to her friend, Sarah Ortegon. Sarah is a visual artist, actress and dancer, and, like Taylar, she’s multitribal. She’s both Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. The two of them talk about using art and their relationship to nature to reckon with being from two different tribes.
Sarah talks to birds
Blue Dot Sessions