Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho


The judge presiding over the monumental Snake River Basin Adjudication has refused to disqualify himself and to set aside previous rulings in the face of alleged conflicts of interest. Fifth District Judge Barry Wood denied motions by the tribe, which announced it would appeal the case to the Idaho Supreme Court. The tribe asked Wood to disqualify himself from any proceeding that would affect his or his family's water rights claims, and called for previous rulings on tribal claims to be set aside. Last November, Wood rejected Nez Perce claims to most of the water in the Snake River. Critics said that could affect most water users in southern Idaho. The tribe filed 1,113 claims to water in the Snake basin, contending an 1855 treaty granting fishing rights implied a water right to sustain the fish. Wood held an 1893 agreement legally reduced the Nez Perce reservation to just a fraction of the land the tribe originally inhabited. He concluded fishing rights reserved by the tribe did not include in-stream rights to water outside the reservation's boundaries. "While the Nez Perce Tribe agrees it may be difficult to find a state court judge who does not have a conflict of interest in the SRBA water case, this should not mean that we must be subject to a judge with documented conflicts,'' said Samuel Penney, Tribal Executive Committee chairman.

The North Central Idaho Jurisdictional Alliance has rallied behind Rick Laam after earlier discounting his document about relations with the tribe. In the paper written in December, the Orofino's city administrator describes the issues the alliance was formed to address. It was presented at a Kamiah Chamber of Commerce meeting earlier this month and a paragraph referring to "inevitable bloodshed'' if relations with the tribe did not improve caused a stir. The alliance is a group of 23 governmental entities that questions the tribe's claims of legal authority over non-Indian residents and property within the designated area of the Treaty of 1863. "Anyone who reads the document and seriously looks at what it says would see we are not racist in the document and we are not argumentative,'' said Clearwater County Commissioner Earl Pickett after unanimous support Thursday for the document. The tribe formally disavowed the work and alliance director Dan Johnson also said it was strictly a city of Orofino document. This vote changed that stance.