Published June 17, 2016
FORT DUCHESNE, UTAH – The Business Committee of the Ute Indian Tribe, the State of Utah, Uintah County and Duchesne County entered into three related agreements on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, which are a substantial step toward bringing to a close the federal court litigation between the State and the Tribe which began in 1975, Ute Tribe v. State of Utah.
Through decisions issued in that case in 1985, 1997, and 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held, among other issues; that: the Tribe’s Uncompahgre Reservation has not been diminished; the portion of the Tribe’s Uintah Valley Reservation which were included in a national forest remain part of the Tribe’s Reservation; and other lands allotted to the Tribe or its members or returned to the Reservation under a federal Restoration Order remain Reservation to this day.
Despite the prior federal appellate court decisions determining Reservation boundaries, the State, beginning in 2012, had brought suits in the Utah State Courts, without the Tribe as a party, in which the State attempted to re-litigate the Tribe’s Reservation boundaries. In a strongly worded rebuke to the State and counties, the United States Court of Appeals held that the State was not permitted to re-litigate the issues which had previously been resolved. Ute Indian Tribe v. Utah, 790 F.3d 1000 (10th Cir. June 16, 2015) (Ute VI).
The agreements signed on Tuesday are the direct result of discussions between the Tribe and Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Uintah County, and Duchesne County Commissioners, where each of the parties recognized that they each started from the same general understanding that a cooperative relationship between the Tribe and the State would benefit both sides and would benefit all of the people in the Uintah Basin, both Indian and non-Indian; that the pending litigation cannot resolve many of the concerns which both sides have in providing effective law enforcement in the area; and that cooperation will help ensure that economic development is not harmed by jurisdictional boundaries or uncertainties.
A particular focus of the agreements is providing effective law enforcement in the Uintah Basin. Following the signing, Ute Business Committee Chairman Shaun Chapoose issued the following statement on behalf of the Business Committee:
“What the Tribe is seeking is to continue to live in peace as a tribe on its lands. The Tribe will never give in on this issue, which has then led to this costly and combative litigation between the Tribe and the State.
We appreciate that the Governor came to meet with us directly at the Tribal Council chambers. We believe his personal leadership and his commitment on behalf of the State was instrumental in moving this matter forward.”