CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Shoshone tribe being prosecuted for hunting on land belonging to them

Mar 2, 2023, 5:00 PM

Shoshone...

Sam Burbank, of Boise, fishes from his pontoon on Lake Billy Shaw on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Idaho-Nevada border, Tuesday, May 15, 2007. The lake was built with federal money in 1998 to help mitigate the loss of salmon on the Owyhee River caused by dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Now, Shoshone and Northern Paiute tribal members who live here benefit, as the fly-fishing, catch-and-release only lake's seven-pound rainbow trout (AP Photo/John Miller)

(AP Photo/John Miller)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and the state of Utah agreed on fishing and hunting rights in a lawsuit against the state of Idaho. 

The state of Utah, the federal government and the Shoshone are on one side of the courtroom, while Idaho is on the other. 

The lawsuit against Idaho is because the state denied the Shoshone’s right to hunt and fish on its ancestral lands. 

Contextually, the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation occupies parts of northern Utah and southern Idaho. 

The history

During the Fort Bridger treaty of 1868, the Shoshone Tribe owned 80 million acres of land, when the U.S. began to colonize, 40 million acres were taken and transferred to U.S. ownership.

Further, in exchange for their land, the Shoshone tribe still had the right to hunt and fish on the unoccupied land of the U.S.

“There is a lot of history in this case,” said Lary Echo Hawk. “It goes back prior to 1968.”

Lary Echo Hawk served as the U.S. assistant secretary of the interior for Indian affairs during the Obama administration. Now he is the advisor to the governor and attorney general in Utah. In the 90’s he actually served as an attorney general to Idaho.

Now, the federally recognized Tribe and its right to hunt on the land are in question.

“Idaho has been criminally prosecuting tribal members,” said Echo Hawk.

He also explained after Tribe members were getting ticketed for hunting and fishing on Idaho land, the Tribe filed a suit in federal court. Which they initially lost in Idaho. The reason being, the judge said because they’d don’t live on a designated reservation, they don’t have the right to hunt or fish.

Next steps in court

Next in honor of the treaty rights, an amicus brief was ordered by the solicitor general of justice for the U.S. on behalf of the Tribe. 

Because of their good relationship with the Tribe, the state of Utah also filed an amicus brief in the Tribe’s favor. 

Of the Shoshone, as Echo Hawk points out, there are only about 20 hunters. And the agreement between Utah and the Tribe covers combination licenses, as well as big game and other permits. 

“Under the United States Constitution,” Echo Hawk told Dave & Dujanovic. “Treaties are deemed the supreme law of the land. If people believe in the constitution they should recognize that these treaties… [are] no different than treaties with foreign nations.”

While it may seem that Idaho does not have much of a defense, Echo Hawk watched the arguments from the courtroom.

“It appeared from just watching that this is going to be a win for the Northwest band but you never know…until they actually issue the opinion,” he told Dave and Dujanovic. 

Echo Hawk said he believes in three or four months there will be an opinion on the case from the ninth circuit U.S. court of appeals. 

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Shoshone tribe being prosecuted for hunting on land belonging to them