In 1861, when Utah was still a territory and Confederate and Union soldiers fired the first shots of the Civil War, Congress signed a treaty turning 4 million arid acres in Utah's Uintah Basin into the Ute Indian Reservation.
More than a century later, after seeing three-quarters of their homeland surrendered to non-Indians, the tribe went to court seeking its return, eventually winning 3 million acres back in a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision.The decision reaffirmed the reservation's original boundaries, elating Utes but rattling non-Indians who worried the tribe would abuse its new-found power base.
In Duchesne County, 90 percent of which is now part of the reservation, and in Uintah County, now 60 percent reservation land, an uneasiness, born of prejudice and fear of change, prevailed.
As one Ute Indian told the Deseret News recently, the shoe traditionally worn by the historically oppressed Indian was now on the other foot. "Now they know how our forebears felt when the Europeans came," said Emilee Root.
After the court ruling, tribal leaders and city, county and state officials met frequently at the negotiating table to discuss jurisdictional questions where new tribal boundaries crossed county land for the first time in decades.
Non-Indians were concerned the tribe, a sovereign nation, would abuse its new power. They feared the Utes would use their expanded land base to tax heavily, close prime Utah hunting ground now under Indian control, and arrest with impunity non-Indians on reservation land.
At first the meetings were marked by acrimony, typified by a session in January 1987 when officials met with Gov. Norm Bangerter. Tribal officials charged non-Indians with failing to recognize Ute jurisdiction and attempting to foment discord in the region, claiming in one instance a tribal member was beaten by a non-Indian.
"I am sick and tired of seeing the (Utes) get the hell knocked out of them," Stuart Pike, a member of the tribe's ruling Business Committee said at the meeting.
But the acrimony between Indians and non-Indians subsided, and eventually the groups united into what officials say has been and will continue to be an effective force for developing the Uintah Basin.
Two years after the controversy, Duchesne County Commission Chairman Larry Ross says the atmosphere at the meetings has lightened. "Our relationship is really quite enjoyable now."
Ross points to the realization that a unified front among non-Indians and Indians is a powerful tool in achieving goals for the economically depressed and parched Uintah Basin.
One such goal is meeting the future water needs of the area.
Last Tuesday, Ute officials and Uintah Basin county commissioners testified together before the House Interior Committee in Washington, D.C., on a $614 million Central Utah Project Bill.
The bill calls for completion of several originally planned CUP units, such as the White Rocks dam in Uintah County, to bring needed water into the area, where agriculture also plays an important economic role.
Ross complains that those CUP units completed or under construction benefit mainly the Wasatch Front, leaving the arid Uintah Basin high and dry.
Their $614 million request is substantial, given that Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, introduced a $754 million CUP re-authorization bill that was pared to $45.4 million.
But Ross believes the influence of the Indian/non-Indian bloc will go a long way in securing the funds.
"It appeared joining with the Indians was really the best position for the non-Indian on the reservation," he said, adding that the chorus of Ute and Anglo voices will be better heard in the halls of Congress.
"Congress said now that you are a unified group, you are in a much better position," he said.
The Indian/non-Indian coalition has tackled other problems in eastern Utah, such as enforcing the law across the huge, mostly roadless desert, Ross said.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the state, counties on the reservation and the Ute Tribe are poised to sign a cross-deputization agreement that will strengthen law enforcement in their region, Ross said.
"The agreement will give police authority to deal with both Indians and non-Indians," he said. Formerly, tribal officers and some non-Indian officers had only limited jurisdiction.
Duchesne County Sheriff Clair Poulson lauded the pending agreement as a means to more efficiently enforce the law in the vast Uintah Basin. Indian and non-Indian officers would be able to arrest Indian and non-Indian lawbreakers whether a violation occurs on the reservation or off.
The law enforcement agreement is a "milestone," Ross Said. "Two or three years ago no one would have thought this would come about. We just weren't in the mood to deal with things like this," he said.
Indians and non-Indians used to sit at arms-length during meetings to discusssuch issues. But nowadays, the meetings have, as tribal officials point out, developed into chummy rap sessions.
"We're talking together now," said Maxine Natchees, of the tribe's Business Committee. "And I believe the relationship has greatly improved over the last three years."
Despite some "negative comments about Indians," Natchees said the two groups frequently see eye to eye. While criticizing Bangerter for his lack of involvement in Indian affairs, Business Committee Chairman Lester Chapoose praised Rep. Beverly Ann Evans and Sen. Alarik Myrin, both R-Altamont, for concerted efforts to bring the tribe into the state policy-making loop.
Utes welcome the new cooperative relationship among Indians and non-Indians in the Uintah Basin but say they had no intention of disrupting the area when they won their court battle in 1986, a victory they say simply corrected errors committed by the government during the past century.
Natchees views the court decision as a "reaffirmation" of guarantees the government made to them more than a century ago _ guarantees laying a new economicfoundation on a reservation with 70 percent unemployment.
The ruling, Natchees said, enabled the Utes to struggle for self-sufficiency within their larger, original boundaries.
Spiritually, the "reaffirmed" boundaries permitted the tribe to collectively take a breath of fresh air. "In a subtle sense, we have a peace," said Root. "It feels good to us that we have our outer boundaries back."
But perhaps more importantly, Natchees said, "I think it has shown the non-Indians that we're here and we do have a reservation and that we are a sovereign nation."
The court decision did indeed shock some locals.
Reflecting on his first days in office only weeks after the Supreme Court decision, Ross said local concern grew in small ways from racial bias in the UintahBasin.
"Of course there's been some discrimination . . . and it's going to take some time to reduce that," Ross said, "on both sides."
But for the most part, Ross and Natchees agreed, the discomfort came from the sudden appearance of something different for the residents who knew only the shrunken, tiny reservation their fathers and grandfathers knew.
"There were a lot of people who didn't like the idea of expanded boundaries," Roosevelt Mayor Lawrence Yack said. "It's just like riding a horse who knows one way toward water and you can't teach him otherwise. People are sort of like that."
"The Indians have been very low-key, basically forever," Ross said. "For them to come forward and take their rightful place, that can be a little disconcerting for some."
Some residents were less circumspect at the time the court ruled to expand the reservation to its original boundaries.
"Now that they've got their way on this, they'll probably want Manhattan Island back, too," quipped a Duchesne store clerk the day the U.S. Supreme Court decision reinstated the 1861 boundaries.
Commissioner Ross said his constituents were troubled over what ultimately boiled down to jurisdiction _ who could arrest whom, who could tax what and wherehunting and fishing would be permitted.
From the beginning, tribal leaders attempted to quell fears the expansion would bring chaos, and non-Indian government officials also proclaimed life would go on as usual.
Still, a sense of uncertainty remains among county officials and local residents who feel the tribe may use its powers to tax excessively.
Those fears came to a head Sept. 29 at a public hearing at which the tribe solicited opinion on its proposed 10 percent severance tax on oil and gas production in the Uintah Basin, the richest oil land in the state.
Chapoose pledged in 1986 there were no plans to raise taxes at the time the court decision quadrupled reservation land. Now the tribe is proposing what oil producers call a whopping tax.
The severance tax has caused some anxiety among some county officials who are otherwise content with relations between Indians and non-Indians.
"All's quiet for now," said Duchesne County Attorney Herbert Gillespie. "But there's an anxiety that our economic future is in the hands of people you don't have any control over."
County officials and oil industry representatives worry the tax, which couldtake effect Nov. 1, would shut oil wells that provide much of the employment upon which the Uintah Basin relies.
"We're a little bit worried there could be a big red circle drawn around usthat would indicate a zone of economic uncertainty that would hinder our economic future," he lamented.
The tribe already enjoys $6 million annually in royalties and could see another $5 million in severance tax revenue if they pass the ordinance, said Wes Pettingill, director of the tribes' Energy and Mineral Resource Department.
The state of Utah collects $4 million annually from reservation oil drillers, who pay a 4 percent severance tax to the state, according to the State Tax Commission.
Although two recent Supreme Court decisions _ Merrion vs. the Jicarilla Apache Tribe in 1982 and Kerr-McGee vs. the Navajo Tribe in 1985 _ permit the tribeto impose taxes, oil companies charge the proposed fee amounts to double taxation.
Meanwhile, a case called Cotton Petroleum Co. vs. the State of New Mexico awaits a Supreme Court decision to determine whether, and to what extent, a tribeand a state can tax on an Indian reservation.
While the Supreme Court ponders Cotton, Duchesne County's Ross and the tribe's Natchees think about the Uintah Basin's future, a future that both agree mustbe shared.
"I don't know where we're going to be in 20 years, but I hope we can continue to work together," Ross said.
"That's the way it should be," Natchees said.
Input file was /asst/csi/1008/pass2/0281 Output file was /asst/csi/1008/pass3/0341