Northwestern Band of Shoshone sues Idaho over hunting rights

BOISE, Idaho (AP) – The Northwestern Shoshone Nation Band is suing Idaho Governor Brad Little and state wildlife officials in federal court, claiming the state wrongly denied the tribe’s hunting rights guaranteed by the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho earlier this week, calls on a judge to declare the Northwestern Strip protected by treaty. State attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At first glance, the legal matter might come down to whether any of the Native American leaders who signed the treaty represented the Northwestern Band along with other bands of the Shoshone Nation, and whether the Northwestern Band itself remained a cohesive unit at the time. since.

But at the heart of the dispute is a dilemma faced by many Native American governments across the United States who sometimes find themselves at odds with game wardens, mining companies, water users, or other groups as ‘They are trying to preserve their use of the land that has been promised to them. in treaties signed centuries ago. Tribes have increasingly turned to the legal system to interpret and apply these treaties.

“For thousands of years, the Shoshone Nation bands and their ancestors hunted and subsisted on land in various parts of the Great Basin and throughout the vast territory of the Shoshone Nation,” attorney Ryan Frazier wrote in the trial, noting that they lived nomadically. across 125,000 square miles (approximately 323,749 square kilometers) of prairies, forests and mountains in Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Nevada.

But as white settlers, gold miners, and Mormon families moved west, demand for natural resources and land increased, causing tensions between Native American tribes and settlers. The conflicts culminated with the Bear River Massacre in 1863, when the US military slaughtered between 200 and 500 Shoshone men, women and children near what is now Preston, Idaho.

Eventually, the federal government and Native American leaders signed the Treaty of 1868 at Fort Bridger, ceding land to the United States. In return, the tribes were offered certain guarantees, including the right to hunt on unoccupied land.

Today, the Northwestern Band has no reserve land and its tribal offices are in Brigham City, Utah. Historically, band members spent time fishing near what is now Salmon, Idaho, hunting big game in western Wyoming, and hunting and gathering in southern Idaho and Utah. Winters were often spent in Southeast Idaho.

According to the lawsuit, the state of Idaho does not recognize that the Northwestern bands of the Shoshone Nation were part of the Fort Bridger Treaty and does not believe that members of the government-recognized Northwest Band federal have the right to hunt on unoccupied land. in accordance with the treaty.

Some members of the Northwestern Band tribe have faced criminal convictions after Idaho game wardens said they were hunting without a tag. In 1997, two brothers were convicted of hunting out of season in Idaho, despite having hunting tags issued by the Northwestern Band. Shane and Wayde Warner appealed their convictions, claiming Treaty rights at Fort Bridger.

Although the Idaho Court of Appeals agreed that the Northwestern Band was represented by the tribal chiefs who signed the Fort Bridger Treaty, it said the band did not maintain sufficient political continuity to maintain its rights.

In 2019, two other tribesmen were cited in Idaho for hunting without a tag. This criminal case is on hold as the federal trial proceeds.

Similar lawsuits in other states have been successful. In 2014, the United States Supreme Court sided with a Crow tribe member who was fined for hunting elk in Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest. The Crow tribe member successfully argued that when his tribe relinquished land in present-day Montana and Wyoming under an 1868 treaty signed at Fort Laramie, the tribe retained the right to hunt on the Earth.

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