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Tribal suit aims at state’s hunting rules

Sat., Nov. 14, 2009, midnight

The Colville Confederated Tribes has filed a federal suit against Washington state to protect the tribes’ hunting rights on property north of the reservation.

According to the suit, the Department of Fish and Wildlife had no right to cite a Colville tribal member with a gun safety violation on the land the tribes call the North Half in north-central Washington.

The complaint follows failed negotiations between tribal government and the state after Fish and Wildlife cited C. Vernon Jordan, a tribal member, with carrying a loaded weapon in his vehicle in 2007.

Under tribal law, it is legal to have rounds of ammunition in the magazine of a rifle, but not in the chamber. However, under state law it is illegal to have rounds in either.

The tribes contend that tribal members should be bound only by tribal law under an 1891 agreement with the federal government.

The North Half, about 1.5 million acres of mostly public land between the current northern reservation boundary and the Canadian border, was ceded to the tribes in 1872 but taken away in 1891 when the federal government was pressured to open it to mining interests.

Under the agreement, tribal members’ “right to hunt and fish … shall not be taken away or in anywise abridged,” according to the lawsuit.

“This case defends our members’ right to hunt on the North Half, free of illegal state regulation,” Tribal Council Chairman Michael Finley said. “Tribal members hunting there should not be prosecuted under Washington’s firearms law for engaging in conduct that is both safe and allowed by tribal law.”

The tribes also dispute other state hunter safety regulations that conflict with tribal law, including a mandate to wear hunter orange, prohibitions on spotlighting cougars and bears and allowing disabled hunters to shoot from vehicles.

Matt Kernutt, of the state attorney general’s Division of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said his office was still evaluating the tribes’ complaint in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington and was unable to comment.

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