Sen. John Barrasso’s uncompromising brand of politics has puzzled some who expected a less-confrontational approach when he first went to Washington. Barrasso made his first bid for elected office in 1996, when he sought the Republican nomination in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Alan Simpson, a moderate who supported abortion rights. At the time, Barrasso also characterized himself as “pro-choice,” and was thought to be the front runner. But he narrowly lost to Mike Enzi, who stressed his anti-abortion credentials and went on to defeat Democrat Kathy Karpan in the general election. As Roll Call put it, Barrasso’s “perception as a moderate was his ultimate undoing.” Barrasso would not make the same mistake twice.
RIVERTON--As a child in California, Helsha Acuña was so sensitive about her Native American heritage—her father was Apache, her mother Aleut—that she sometimes tried to pass herself off as Italian. But the racism she encountered was rarely personal. For that, she testified in federal court, she had to come to Riverton. Fresh from graduate work at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Acuña moved to Riverton in the mid-1990s, her daughter and two horses in tow, to teach Native American Studies at Central Wyoming College. She was thrilled when the owners of a nearby ranch, where she had arranged to board her horses, invited her to live in a trailer home on the property in exchange for caretaking duties. But Acuña’s relationship with the couple quickly soured. She was still unpacking her things when the husband stopped by with the news.
FORT WASHAKIE—Mike Shockley is used to working alone. An officer in the Bureau of Indian Affairs police, he was until recently one of just two assigned to night patrols on the Wind River Indian Reservation, an area so vast that he sometimes drove 400 miles in a single shift. Backup? Forget about it. Chances are the other guy was 40 minutes away. As a reservation policeman, you learn to handle stuff on your own. Not anymore. One night last month, the 37-year-old from Cheyenne was one of four officers who pulled up at a house in separate vehicles, emergency lights flashing, to investigate a report of underage drinking. Two set off in hot pursuit of a 16-year-old girl who had bolted out the back of the house. The pair tackled her in the dirt and the three of them went sprawling, with Shockley bringing up the rear. The teenager was led away in handcuffs.
THERMOPOLIS—Indians and whites have been doing business together since the time of Columbus—almost invariably to the Indians’ detriment. But the announcement last year that the Northern Arapaho tribe had been tapped to supply organic grass-fed beef to Whole Foods Markets seemed like a win for all concerned: The tribe would make money off its land, the grocery chain would score points for environmental and social responsibility, and consumers would enjoy the health and culinary benefits of eating free-range beef with a Native American pedigree. Alas, it hasn’t worked out that way.
ARAPAHOE—The girls were familiar with loss. Like too many of their classmates on the Wind River Indian Reservation, they come from broken families and have witnessed first-hand the havoc that alcohol and drugs visit on their community. But there was something about the death of Marisa Spoonhunter that hit them particularly hard.