Indian tribes in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and South Dakota are concerned a court case in Sheridan could threaten treaty rights ensuring unrestricted hunting and fishing off tribal lands.
The tribes last week submitted “friend of the court” briefs supporting the Crow Indian Tribe of Montana in its lawsuit against the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
The Crow Tribe filed the case in 1992 after one of its members, Thomas Ten Bear, was found guilty in Sheridan of illegally killing an elk on the Bighorn National Forest.
The tribe believes it should have unrestricted hunting and fishing rights on the Bighorn and other “unoccupied” federal lands, in accordance with its 1868 treaty.
A U.S. district court judge in Cheyenne last fall dismissed the lawsuit, but the tribe has appealed its case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho argue, “The decision of the district court threatens the ability (of tribal members) to exercise their hunting and fishing rights guaranteed by the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868.”
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes contend the language of their treaty is identical to that of the Crow treaty.
The treaties said Indians have the “right to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon, and so long as peace subsists among the whites and Indians on the borders of the hunting districts,” the legal arguments say.
The brief added that the decision stemming from the Ten Bear case “conflicts with well-settled law recognizing the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ off-reservation treaty rights.”
Bruce Badley of Sheridan, one of Ten Bear’s attorneys, said that four additional tribes filed legal arguments last Friday supporting the Crow Tribe.
They include: the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone tribes of Wyoming, Northern Cheyenne of Montana, and Oglala Sioux of South Dakota.
A spokeswoman in the 10th Circuit said Wednesday the court hasn’t ruled on the briefs filed by the tribes.
Badley noted that the Crow Tribe this week submitted a brief defending its case, and said he believes the appeals court will hear oral arguments by summer.
“If the 10th Circuit doesn’t reverse, I think the U.S. Supreme Court will take it on. And Indians across the country have been winning similar cases concerning off-reservation hunting and fishing rights,” he said.
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