Tribal relations need cooperation
Idaho State Journal Editorial
Relations between the Fort Hall Indian Reservation and surrounding local governments always seem to have a degree of tension, even when things are at their best.
There’s definitely a lack of trust on both sides, perhaps dating back to the poor relations between whites and native Americans during the previous two centuries.
From the Indian perspective, the trust issue can’t be helped by the fact the U.S. government spent many decades waging war—possibly even genocide—against native Americans.
Those who sit today on the city councils and county commissions surrounding the reservation are not personally guilty of any of these horrible misdeeds perpetrated by our government.
Yet it’s pretty clear that some of these local officials think negatively about the reservation, especially those who run it, for a variety of reasons that also boil down to trust.
There’s animosity on both sides and it unfortunately runs deep.
The latest flaps in this ongoing dispute involve an economic study commissioned by Power County that criticized the tribal government and an alleged letter from a tribal official concerning the construction of a runway at Pocatello Regional Airport.
Tribal officials got seriously upset with the economic study because they said they were never contacted to give their input. The study essentially accused the tribal government of being overly controlling of reservation activity and it sought to prove that when other reservations have embraced more of a free enterprise system, they prosper more than Fort Hall.
Situations like this in which one side or the other feels blindsided by criticism are a common theme in this fractured relationship between the tribes and local governments.
Another example occurred earlier this year when several city and county officials organized a meeting with the Journal to voice their concerns about Fort Hall. The tribes were not invited to the meeting and therefore had no seat at the table.
The gripe session only served to upset tribal officials and further deteriorate their trust in the local governments with whom they must co-exist.
To be fair, it would be pretty easy to find a city or county official who would provide evidence of the tribes not acting in good faith.
City and county officials say that at least they conduct their business out in the open for all to see, while the tribes don’t have an open meetings law and govern to a large extent in secrecy.
The alleged contact from a tribal official complaining about the runway construction served as another blow to these strained relations.
Pocatello city officials told the Journal that the tribal official had sent the letter but the tribes deny this and to date no city official has been able to present the letter to the Journal.
These recent examples may favor the tribes in this dispute, but local city and county officials have plenty of stories that prove Fort Hall is not an innocent bystander in the problems.
At the Journal we’ve found that sometimes even getting basic information about wildfires or serious crimes on the reservation is difficult to impossible.
The relations between Fort Hall police and non-reservation law enforcement agencies are also very strained at times.
That being said, the question now should be how can things improve?
As long as there’s this rift between officials on and off the reservation, Fort Hall’s progress as a community will be stalled and the surrounding cities and counties will not reach their potential either.
Communication is the key to resolving differences. We would encourage both sides to talk to each other and find the middle ground. The “my way or the highway” attitude will only continue and worsen the current disagreements.
We encourage tribal and non-tribal officials to follow the Golden Rule—treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s abundantly clear that everyone should work harder to build trust.
After all, they share a common goal. Both sides in this matter want economic growth and they want a better Southeast Idaho.