Utah’s attempts to dismiss Ute Tribe’s lawsuit a continuation of ongoing discrimination, tribe says

Oct 19, 2023, 6:55 AM

Elk roam....

Elk roam at a ranch near Tabby Mountain in Duchesne County on Dec. 19, 2011. A recent lawsuit alleges state agencies participated in a racially discriminatory conspiracy to keep the Ute Indian Tribe from purchasing the mountain. (Winston Armani, Deseret News)

(Winston Armani, Deseret News)

FORT DUCHESNE, Uintah County — The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation says the state’s motions to dismiss its lawsuit regarding the sale of Tabby Mountain are part of ongoing racism and discrimination against the tribe.

The Ute Indian Tribe sued a number of state agencies and officials in May, arguing that they had conspired to prevent the tribe from purchasing Tabby Mountain, 28,500 acres of state trust land just outside its reservation.

The defendants moved to dismiss the suit in August, arguing the state was well within its rights to suspend the sale of Tabby Mountain, that the tribe is not eligible to sue under federal civil rights laws, and that it didn’t meet the statute of limitations. The lawsuit named the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration; its former and current directors David Ure and Michelle McConkie, respectively; former Department of Natural Resources Director Mike Styler and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox as defendants.

The Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration, which manages state trust lands to fund Utah public schools, put Tabby Mountain up for sale in 2018. The Ute Indian Tribe outbid the only other bidder, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, by $6 million. The department disclosed that it did not have the resources for its bid, and the administration later suspended the auction indefinitely instead of selling to the tribe.

The lawsuit, which follows media reports of a whistleblower complaint, claims the two state agencies rigged the bidding process to keep the land out of the tribe’s hands. The Ute Indian Tribe now seeks a court order directing the state to sell the property to the tribe and pay for damages.

“Indeed, the tribe was tricked, all according to defendants’ plan,” the Ute Indian Tribe argues in court documents. “Defendants McConkie and SITLA cannot now argue that the reason the tribe’s civil rights claims are time-barred is because the defendants’ conspiracy was so convincing — that it worked. To allow that argument is to allow a civil rights violation to succeed based on the wits of the government actors and entities holding the marionette strings; based on how well they trick an audience observing through a limited and obstructed view.”

Some of the defendants claimed they should not be defendants in the suit since the responsibility for the sales of trust land administration properties falls on that agency and its director. The Ute Indian Tribe offered a blistering response to those arguments, arguing that all the defendants held responsibility for what it says is ongoing discrimination to date.

“It is, in fact, disappointing that the governor of a state would know about blatant discrimination in sale of property, against a tribe in his own state, and instead of telling his subordinates to complete the sale as he should have, he has his attorneys seek to continue the wrongful discrimination,” court documents read. “Most notably, defendant Cox attempts to escape liability for his ongoing failure to exercise his power to remedy the ongoing wrong, attempting to hide behind a claim that it happened on someone else’s watch. It is happening on his watch. He can do something about it, but instead is having his attorneys try to evade the consequences of the ongoing discrimination.”

Likewise, the tribe’s response criticized McConkie’s motion to dismiss, pointing to the fact that the land administration has yet to resume the bid to Tabby Mountain. McConkie replaced Ure as the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration director in 2022.

“If director McConkie had stopped the ongoing discrimination when she took office, perhaps she would have had an argument. But she cannot both support the ongoing discrimination and claim she cannot be sued,” court documents state. “It is disappointing that, instead of reviewing the tribe’s complaint and deciding to remedy the ongoing wrongful discrimination by her agency and the wrongful breach of trust responsibilities to trust beneficiaries, defendant McConkie chooses to affirmatively act to continue the wrongful discrimination.”

The tribe also stressed that the Tabby bid took place within a broader historical context of land being systemically stripped from the tribe. Tabby Mountain itself is among the tribe’s ancestral homelands and was named after Chief Tabby-To-Kwanah, who led the Timpanogos Nation when they were forcibly displaced from Utah Valley to the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in the 1800s.

That backdrop “highlights the extraordinary injustice of government actors first taking land from the tribe, putting the stolen land up for auction and then rejecting the tribe’s bid as the highest bidder on the very land that was stolen. These factual allegations are just the start of the tribe’s showing that the defendants’ actions cannot be evaluated as anything but intentional continuation of this discriminatory historical backdrop into the modern day,” court documents read.

“The tribe lost something even beyond and in addition to monetary damages as a result of the conspiratorial scheme to deprive it of its aboriginal homelands,” the tribe argues. “It lost the irreplaceable opportunity to practice its religious and spiritual beliefs at Tabby Mountain, to hunt, forage, and collect natural resources, and the unique realty itself. It lost the opportunity to unite the mineral estate — which it owns — with the surface estate, which it fairly purchased — but for the defendants’ racist scheme to prevent that reunification. It also lost the opportunity to add a parcel of land — teeming with life — to its communally held resources, held in trust by the United States and designed to benefit all tribal members equally.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


Midway Ice Castles tickets on sale...

Devin Oldroyd

Tickets for Midway Ice Castles are now on sale for January opening

The weather will dictate the opening, but the Midway Ice Castles exhibit is currently scheduled to be open between Jan. 13 and Feb. 3.

59 minutes ago

As ski season commences, UDOT wants to make sure those traveling to Utah's ski resorts follow the p...

Waverly Golden

Some Utah ski resorts have new parking policies, don’t get fined

As ski season commences, UDOT wants to make sure those traveling to Utah's ski resorts follow the parking policies in place.

2 hours ago

an adult and child skate together at the olympic oval built for the 2002 salt lake games...

Don Brinkerhoff

Utahns buzzing with Olympic fever over Salt Lake City Olympics bid

Salt Lake gets closer to hosting another Winter Olympics. The people who use the facilities built for the 2002 Games are excited.

2 hours ago

Deedee Corradini, the former Salt Lake City mayor, was instrumental in getting the Olympics to Utah...

Amanda Dickson

Dickson: Remembering Deedee Corradini after the Olympics news today

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini was instrumental in getting the Olympics. She would be ecstatic to see them again.

5 hours ago

(KSL TV)...

Britt Johnson

Utah vets keeping mystery dog virus on their radar

Utah veterinarians are on alert as dogs around the country have become sick with an mystery respiratory illness.

10 hours ago

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, and Salt Lake...

Simone Seikaly

IOC picks Salt Lake as ‘preferred host’ for 2034 Winter Olympics

Existing venues and strong support by the Salt Lake City and Utah governments all played a part in Wednesday's Olympics announcement.

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

Utah’s attempts to dismiss Ute Tribe’s lawsuit a continuation of ongoing discrimination, tribe says