Wind River Indian Reservation
Sitting in Wyoming’s Wind River Basin in the “Valley of the Warm Winds” is the Wind River Indian Reservation. The seventh largest reservation in the United States, it encompasses more than 2.2 million acres and is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.
Within its boundaries are the communities of Arapaho, Crowheart, Ethete and Fort Washakie. It’s also home to 240 lakes, hundreds of miles of rivers and streams and some of the state’s most special places. Tribes welcome visitors to learn about their cultures and history.
A Walk Through the Past: Tribal History
The only Indian reservation in Wyoming, the Wind River Indian Reservation was established with the Treaty of Fort Bridger in 1868. Originally home to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, the Northern Arapaho Tribe was moved to the reservation in 1878 where they were welcomed by Chief Washakie of the Eastern Shoshone. A traditionally nomadic tribe for thousands of years, the Eastern Shoshone traveled throughout 16 states from central Wyoming to the west coast. Archealogical evidence reveals that the tribe called parts of Wyoming home for millenia. Today, both tribes share their cultures, history and traditions through oral storytelling, songs,dances and much more.
Points of Interest
Northern Arapaho Experience Room
Located inside the Wind River Hotel & Casino, the Northern Arapaho Experience Room tells the story of the Northern Arapaho people through paintings, pictures, video and artifacts, with an Arapaho elder often guiding visitors through the room as they share their tribe’s history and culture. Every Tuesday during the summer months, the Northern Arapaho Experience showcases various styles of dance. Here they share their stories and important part of the tribe’s culture.
Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary
Located outside of Lander, the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary is the only wild horse sanctuary in the United States that’s located on an Indian reservation. Opened in 2016, it shares the story and important history of the wild mustangs while its on-site visitor center offers interpretive displays about the importance of the horse to American Indian tribes. Home to 130 mustangs, vistors can schedule guided tours where they are able to tour the ranch and learn about the horses that call this place home.
St. Stephens Indian Mission
Founded in the late 1800s by Father John Jutz, St. Stephens Mission at one time included a church, dormitory, gymnasium and Jesuit priest house. While many of the structures were lost over the years, the chapel and Sister Incarnata Hall are used today.
Wind River Canyon
Starting at the town of Shoshoni and ending just north of Thermpolis, the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway (U.S. Highway 20) takes travelers through the Wind River Canyon and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Within view are the red rocks of Owl Creek Mountains, the deep blue waters of Boysen Reservoir and the 2,500 vertical feet of rock walls on either side of the canyon. Home to some of the oldest rock formations in the world, keep an eye out for interpretive signage along the way.
Travelers may experience the Wind River Canyon with a Native American guide. A focus on environmentally sound practices allows travelers to both experience and enjoy their time in the canyon.
Powwows & Dancing Exhibitions
Throughout Wind River Country and the Wind River Indian Reservation, powwows are an important part of American Indian culture. For visitors who are wanting to experience this rich part of Wyoming, powwows are a time-honored tradition that dates back generations as participants celebrate, pray, comepete and do other activities together. Each year, powwows are held in various locations on the Wind River Indian Reservation and include the Eastern Shoshone PowWow in June, the Ethete Celebration & PowWow in July and the Northern Arapaho PowWow in September.
During the summer, the Wind River Hotel & Casino hosts dancing performances in the Northern Arapaho Experience Room every Tuesday, while the Museum of the American West in Lander hosts outdoor exhibitions Wednesday nights in mid-June to early August.
Lodging and Accommodations
Both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes own and operate hotels and casinos on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Sitting just south of Riverton, the Wind River Hotel & Casino has 90 rooms and is a launching spot for exploring the reservation as well as nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Minutes from the outdoor recreation hub of Lander is the Shoshone Rose Casino & Hotel. Featuring 60 rooms, the Shoshone Rose is an ideal location for adventure in the nearby Wind River Mountains and Sinks Canyon.
Etiquette in Indian Country
While traveling on the Reservation, remember that you are in sovereign, self-governed areas. Please obey all tribal laws and regulations and show respect for the Reservation’s residents. Remember that at each powwow, things can and will be slightly different based on unique tribal customs. Be respectful of the uniqueness of each tribe.
- If taking pictures, remember common courtesy and ask permission from the dancer first or ask them after the dance is over. Feel free to introduce yourself. It is usually all right to take group photographs.
- Take a lawn chair. Most powwows will not have seating for the public or enough seating for everyone. Arena benches are reserved for dancers and their families. Dancers will reserve a space on the bench by placing a blanket in that space before the powwow. Please do not sit on someone else’s blanket unless invited. Uncovered benches are considered unreserved.
- Be aware that someone behind you may not be able to see over you. Make room, step aside, sit, or kneel if someone is behind you.
- There are designated leaders who help conduct a powwow, such as the Master of Ceremonies, Arena Director, Head Singer, Head Man Dancer and Head Woman Dancer. If at any time you are uncertain of procedure or etiquette, please check with the Master of Ceremonies, Arena Director, or Head Singer. They will be glad to help you with your questions.
- Listen to the Master of Ceremonies. He will announce the types of dances they will be conducting. Dances are often separated by gender, and vary from traditional to contemporary dances.
- Show respect to the flag and honor songs by standing during “Special” songs. Spectators should stand quietly until the song is completed.
- Each dancers ensemble is unique to them and is called regalia. Please do not touch their regalia without asking first.
- The Flag Song, or Indian National Anthem, is sung when the American Flag is raised or lowered. Please stand and remove hats during the singing of this song. It is not a song for dancing.