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Utes Say State and County Police Are Violating Their Borders

Over the years, the Ute Indian Tribe members have voiced their concerns about traffic stops and arrests by county and state police on tribal lands.
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Over the years, the Ute Indian Tribe (Northern Ute) members have voiced their concerns about traffic stops and arrests by county and state police on tribal lands in northeastern Utah. Those charged contend the arrests were illegal because they took place within the reservation.

Now the tribe seeks to enforce rulings by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1985 and 1997 that affirmed the boundaries of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, headquartered in Fort Duchesne, Utah.

The National Congress of American Indians is supporting the tribe in its effort to ensure the reservation remains intact and to maintain authority over all Indian country lands within the reservation’s exterior boundaries. The NCAI also asked the Departments of Justice and Interior to intervene to protect “the finality and binding effect of federal court rulings adjudicating [those] boundaries.”

After a hearing June 24 in district court in Salt Lake City, attorneys for the tribe said the state of Utah and Uintah County “have agreed to voluntarily stay the criminal prosecution of Ute Tribal members who were arrested by Uintah County sheriff’s deputies inside the Uintah and Ouray Reservation” pending a final decision by the court in 2014 on a permanent injunction against such prosecutions.

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The state and county allege the areas in which arrests took place are “former” or “historic” reservation lands, while tribal attorneys are asking the district court to permanently halt relitigation of the reservation boundaries after the earlier decisions by the federal appeals court.

The Northern Ute reservation, like many others, is checkerboarded with trust, private, and government parcels and is criss-crossed by federal and state highways and county roads.

In 1985, the Ute Indian Tribe v. Utah, clarified that the tribe maintained jurisdiction in three disputed categories of non-trust land, including lands apportioned under the Ute Partition Act, lands allotted to individual Indians and in fee status after 1905, and lands consolidated under the Indian Reorganization Act and subsequent legislation.

“State officers do not possess criminal jurisdiction over highways or roads running through reservation lands or through these three categories of lands meeting the definition of Indian country, a point the [surrounding] counties have continually refused to acknowledge,” according to the tribe.

Because the district court judge on June 24 did not require the state and counties to inform the tribe’s attorneys of pending criminal prosecution involving tribal members, those arrested are asked to contact the tribe’s general counsel, Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP.