Government of the Wind River Indian Reservationfrom Wyoming Blue Book vol. 4, 1991, with updates
Like reservations all over the United States, the Wind River Indian Reservation functions under a dual system of governance—a system that involves both the tribes and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Wyoming's Wind River reservation is unique in that the tribal part of the governmental equation is also split between the two tribes on the reservation—the Shoshones and the Northern Arapahos.

Tribal Government

General Councils. The Shoshone and Arapaho tribes have separate general council meetings to act on matters of concern to each tribe. The general councils include all enrolled members of each tribe who are 18 years of age or older. General councils are called as needed by members who request that the respective business councils set a meeting time and date. A chairperson for the general council is nominated when the council convenes and is chosen by a vote of the tribal members present.

Business Councils

Trenholm Print 52, Arapahoe - Shoshone Joint Council, 1935.jpg
Northern Arapaho & Eastern Shoshone Councils, 1935. L-R, Front Row (Arapaho): Robert Friday, Charles Whiteman, Mike Goggles, Sr., Henry Lee Tyler, Alonzo Moss and Tom Crispin. Back Row (Shoshone): Forrest Stone (Superintendent), Dee Driscoll, Irene K. Meade, Charley Washakie, Gilbert Day, Wallace St. Clair, Bill Aragon. (WSA Trenholm Print 52)

In 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act encouraged Indian tribes to exercise their residual sovereignty based on tribal constitutions. At that time, the Shoshones and Arapahos chose not to charter. Therefore the two tribes on the Wind River reservation are considered unorganized tribes—neither has a constitution or bylaws. [as of 1990]

Every two years each tribe elects separate business councils which consist of six enrolled tribal members. Each tribe has different procedures for these elections. Enrolled members of the Arapaho tribe file a petition to run for office and proceed through a primary and general election. Shoshone tribal members nominate candidates for the business council at a general council meeting. Six of the nominees are then chosen in a general election.

Each business council meets separately each week to take up matters pertaining to the respective tribes and once a month to act on tribal enrollments.

Northern Arapaho Business Council
Eastern Shoshone Business Council

Joint Business Council

Elected members of the Shoshone Business Council and the Arapaho Business Council comprise the 12-member Joint Business Council. The Joint Business Council is an unofficial body. Members must return to their respective business councils to vote on substantive matters affecting each tribe. The Joint Business Council does not elect officers, but chairmen of the two separate business councils alternate as Joint Council chairman. The Joint Business Council meets weekly. Joint Business Council Committees. Committees usually are made up of three members from each business council. The committees discuss matters pertaining to both tribes and make recommendations to the Joint Business Council. The committees meet as necessary.

Committees may be established as needed, but usually they include the Range and Assignment Committee, Fish and Game Committee, Health Committee, Roads Committee, Property Survey and Buildings Committee, Minerals Committee, Education and Recreation Committee, Budget Committee, Administration for Native Americans Committee, Hot Springs Committee, and Economic Development Committee.

On September 9, 2014, the Northern Arapaho Tribe announced they had dissolved the Joint Business Council in favor of increased tribal sovereignty and formed a Cooperative Management Team to make decisions on joint issues.

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe rejected the dissolution as well as the creation of the Cooperative Management Team and said that they will maintain the Joint Business Council. "Both our predecessors agreed to and operated JBC for over 75 years,” Shoshone council chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr. said. “The Shoshone tribe will decide how and when we make decisions regarding our sovereignty, treaty and reservation interests, and we agreed to do that with the (Northern Arapaho Tribe) in the JBC process.” (Riverton Ranger 10/8/2014)

Entertainment Committees

Each tribe elects an entertainment committee at the same time elections are held for business councils. Six members are chosen to represent each tribe. The purpose of these committees is to promote social activities for each tribe. The entertainment committees also perform special services including the counting of votes at general council meetings. Members are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the Sun Dance grounds and pow wow grounds. The Arapaho Entertainment Committee is responsible for the protection and upkeep of community halls in the Ethete and Arapahoe areas. The community halls in the Fort Washakie and Crowheart areas are operated by a board of trustees, one for each hall. Community halls are used for dances, feasts, sports activities, and other social occasions.

Oil and Gas Commissions

In 1980 the two tribes formed separate commissions to investigate alleged oil and gas thefts and underpayment of oil royalties to the tribes. Along with special investigative counsel, both commissions coordinate efforts in the continuing investigative task.

Bureau of Indians Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was created in 1824 and in 1849 was transferred to the U.S. Department of Interior under whose jurisdiction it remains. The purpose of the BIA is to encourage and train Indian people to manage their own affairs under a trust relationship with the federal government. It also exists to mobilize all public and private aids for the advancement of Indian people.

The BIA works closely with tribal councils in developing and operating programs on the Wind River Indian Reservation.


The services and programs of the BIA, the two business councils and the joint Business Council are highly integrated, although authority for bureau functions comes from the Interior Department while authority for tribal administrative units comes directly from the business councils. The council chambers, both joint and separate, are located in the Tribal Complex at Fort Washakie.

BIA personnel are housed in the Wind River Field Agency Office which is separate but also located at Fort Washakie.

Court of Indian Offenses

The court's authority derives from the United States Code of Federal Regulations. It is referred to as a CFR court. As such the court is a part of the federal court system and the Department of the Interior rather than the tribal governmental system.

The chief judge, two associate judges, and three appellate judges are appointed by the local BIA superintendent, confirmed by a two-thirds vote of both tribal business councils, and verified by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Judges are members of the American Indian Tribal Judges Association. The association and the American Indian Lawyers Association provide training for lay persons to become judges.

The court's jurisdiction is within the boundaries of the reservation and extends, in both civil and criminal cases of misdemeanor, to Indians only. Non-Indians may bring civil cases to the court when the defendant is Indian.

The court also employs a clerk of court who supervises the secretary and bookkeeping staff, a prosecutor and an assistant prosecutor. Court sessions are held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with Tuesdays and Thursdays set aside for special cases.

Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court website