FAA Finds City of Pocatello Discriminated Against the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Lease Agreements

Mayor Brian Blad

Published August 17, 2018

FORT HALL, Idaho — On June 8, 2016, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Tribes issued an official Press Release informing the public of a federal investigation on the City of Pocatello (“City”) for violating federal funding provisions related to the City’s lease language at the Pocatello Regional Airport (“Airport”).  On August 3, 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) issued the results of the investigation of discrimination by the City against the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes (“Tribes”).  The City’s contract states anyone renting land from the City at the airport shall “not enter into any written agreement with the Tribes” without the City’s approval.  Further, the agreement provides if the City’s tenant receives communications from the Tribes, the tenant must “immediately provide” the City “with a copy of any written correspondence or material” received from the Tribes.

The FAA investigation concluded the [lease] provision violates civil right laws by discriminating against the Tribes on the basis of race and national origin. Further, the FAA stated the City must take corrective action within 30 days to modify or remove the discriminatory language from all their current and future contractual agreements. The City received more than $3 million in federal funds for the airport.

Pocatello’s Mayor Brian Blad informed the FAA it routinely includes that discriminatory language in Lease Agreements. Instead of taking responsibility for the discriminatory language and correcting the problem in consultation with the Tribes, Mayor Blad informed the media “it’s ludicrous to think that we are discriminating against them [the Tribes] in my opinion. . . .  (KPVI News Report May 2, 2016). The City paid a national law firm to represent it in the investigation.  The City argued it was proper to discriminate against the Tribes and “if the Tribes’ arguments were accepted, then it would follow that the countries of Iran or Sudan could sue for discrimination.”

The Tribes are not sure why the City’s attorneys used a comparison of predominantly Islamic nations to an American Indian Tribe, but believe cultural sensitivity training for their law firm and city would be appropriate. 

Now that the FAA has determined the City’s actions were discriminatory, the Tribes hope the Mayor will publicly apologize to the Tribes for the racial discrimination and pledge to make stronger efforts to work with the Tribes in the future. The FAA decision is an opportunity for the City and Mayor to realize that business as usual is not a proper path forward.  Chairman Small stated, “If the City utilizes this opportunity to work together, we could foster the shared understanding of both communities, which benefits our citizens for better opportunities and management of our shared resources.”

The Tribes pursued an informal complaint process with the FAA because it wanted to create a forum for the City to correct the discrimination that would not affect federal funding received for the airport. The Tribes hope the City will take advantage of the Tribes kind gesture and avoid possible corrective action.  Chairman Small further stated, “We hope the FAA’s findings of discrimination will help facilitate a dialogue with the City of Pocatello on how to better recognize and remedy discrimination within their municipality, their business dealings, and within themselves.”

The city of Pocatello is 14 miles south of the Fort Hall Reservation and is named after one of the Shoshone Chiefs who according to the cities website, granted the railroad a right-of-way through the reservation. The city of Pocatello is also home of many tribal members who reside, dine, shop, and attend the public schools (K-college).

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