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Former Charlo woman won't back down

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HELENA, Mont. - A former Charlo-area woman who unlawfully killed a deer on the Flathead reservation is reviving her appeal before the Montana Supreme Court.

"It's going ahead," says Sandra White Shook, who now lives outside Salmon, Idaho. "I'm not backing out."

In 1999, Shook entered a conditional plea of guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission rules. She was cited by a state warden in 1997 after shooting a whitetail buck on fee land outside the reservation community of Dixon. The state regulation has been in place for decades.

Shook argued she'd bought a state deer tag and had permission to hunt on the property.

She maintains the state rule barring non-Indians from hunting big game on the reservation is discriminatory and unconstitutional. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes also prohibit the practice.

Unmoved, District Court Judge C.B. McNeil of Polson refused to dismiss the case and fined Shook $500, gave her a five-day suspended jail term and revoked her state hunting privileges for two years. McNeil ordered her to pay the fine within four months, which records show wasn't done. In a prearranged maneuver, Shook appealed the ruling to the high court.

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After languishing for months, the case took a new turn in February when Assistant Montana Attorney General Sarah Bond and South Dakota attorney Tom Tobin, who represents Shook, said they'd ask McNeil to defer the sentence, meaning Shook would not be penalized for the deer hunting unless she got into further legal trouble.

Court documents filed at the time show Shook planned to drop her appeal. Then McNeil refused the request and bounced the case back to Helena, where Chief Justice Karla Gray told the parties to either drop the case or get it moving.

Shook, 56, maintains that Bond and Tobin got their wires crossed and she has no intention of giving up the fight. In a new brief filed in late May, Tobin argues the anti-hunting rule violates equal-protection guarantees and that the state commission exceeded its authority by enacting it. He also contends the statute serves "no legitimate state interest" and it contradicts other state laws that say citizens can obtain permission to hunt on private lands.

"Only non-Indians are not allowed to hunt on the reservation," Tobin wrote. "Only non-Indian private landowners within the reservation are not allowed to hunt on their own land. The Legislature has not approved of this classification system."

Neither the state nor the Salish and Kootenai Tribes, a party to the case, have responded to Tobin's contentions.

"I never wanted out of this appeal," says Shook, who has fought the Salish and Kootenai Tribes on a variety of fronts. "Sometimes these guys start playing politics and they start doing stuff on their own."