Council on Indian Affairs: Dental legislation, government shutdowns, and grim history lessons

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

In the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 1863, US soldiers massacred more than 400 Shoshone men, women and children in what is now southeast Idaho.

If you didn’t know that piece of Idaho history, you’re not alone, Chairman Darren Parry of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation told the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs on Thursday. The Bear River Massacre is often glossed over in US history.

But Parry hopes to change that with the Boa Ogoi Cultural and Interpretive Center, for which he’s currently fundraising. His goal: $5 million. He currently has $2 million of that, plus another potential $1 million from the Utah Legislature. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has also donated $1 million, he said.

Parry isn’t asking for money from the Idaho Legislature, he said, but he did want to share the story of his people with the committee, which is made up of representatives from Idaho’s five tribal nations and representatives from the Idaho Legislature.

Though the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation is recognized as a Utah tribe, the people were historically indigenous to what is now southern Idaho and northern Utah.

“When the Mormons discovered Cache Valley in 1855, that was pretty much the death knell for our tribe,” Parry said. After years of simmering tensions and fights between the tribe and Mormon settlers, soldiers from Fort Douglas attacked the village near Bear River.

The Boa Ogoi Cultural and Interpretive Center will be located in Idaho, Parry said, where the tribe purchased 700 acres near Preston last year.

Parry said the interpretive center will be “much more than a visitor center, but a place of learning.”

Also at the meeting, Gov. Brad Little made an unannounced appearance, spending most of his time in front of the committee answering questions from tribal chairmen on the state’s position on Indian Child Welfare Act, natural resources, transportation and education.


Gov. Brad Little addresses the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs on Thursday. Melissa Davlin/Idaho Reports

While Little offered few specifics, he said he hoped to continue working with tribal leaders on these issues, pointing out common concerns regarding clean water, foster care, schools and road safety.  

Nez Perce Chairman Shannon Wheeler took the opportunity to remind Little of the Nez Perce Treaty of 1855, which guaranteed the tribe access to renewable resources. “We (want to) protect those things and a way of life that we’ve had for thousands of years, and we would like definitely the state perspective on that,” Wheeler said.

The committee heard a presentation on proposed legislation on dental health aide therapists, which would allow a new category of dental practitioners to practice on reservations. The idea, said Tyrel Stevenson, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, is to provide culturally respectful care in underserved communities on reservations.

“The whole idea is to provide better care,” Stevenson said. “Not lesser care. Better care.”

A few members of the committee also brought up the federal government shutdown, which has furloughed employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After the meeting, Fort Hall Business Council Vice-Chairman Ladd Edmo of the Shoshone Bannock Tribe told Idaho Reports that the shutdown is affecting not just BIA employees, but basic transactions like land purchases, for which tribal members rely on the BIA.

Wheeler also addressed the federal government shutdown. “We’re having some tough times with the shutdown,” he told the committee. “We’re looking forward to the government getting going and start working at the behest of all of us.”


Watch Idaho Reports in coming weeks for more information on the dental health aide therapy proposal.


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