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UTE TRIBE AGREES NOT TO PROSECUTE VIOLATORS OF HUNTING RULE FOR NOW

SHARE UTE TRIBE AGREES NOT TO PROSECUTE VIOLATORS OF HUNTING RULE FOR NOW

The Ute Indian Tribe has agreed not to prosecute - for the time being - people cited for violations under a controversial new restriction on hunting at the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.

A hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m., Nov. 30, before U.S. District Judge David K. Winder, in a suit challenging the new rule. The rule is that Utes and enrolled mixed blood members of the tribe may hunt on the reservation - but not accompanied by anyone who isn't enrolled, other than children under 18.Mixed-blood Utes - who are enrolled but whose children aren't - claim the rule is part of the tribe's attempt to discriminate against them.

The action was filed by the Ute Distribution Corp. and Charles H. Denver, a mixed-blood resident of the Uintah Basin. Defendants are the tribe and members of its ruling Tribal Business Committee.

In 1954, Congress passed the Ute Partition Act, which divided the tribe's assets. Mixed-blood tribal members were terminated from government supervision and allocated a portion of tribal assets, said Max Wheeler, lawyer for the plaintiffs.

But assets that could not be divided - such as water rights, or oil and gas rights - were retained by the mixed-bloods as well as the full-blood Utes. However, these rights are not inheritable by children of the mixed bloods, who were officially enrolled as of 1954.

For a mixed-blood to have an interest in the indivisible rights, he had to be enrolled at the time of the partition. Any children born since then aren't enrolled.

In 1958, the Ute Distribution Corp. was set up to manage the mixed blood members' non-divisible assets.

Several years ago, U.S. District Chief Judge Bruce S. Jenkins ruled that fishing and hunting on the reservation are also indivisible rights retained by the mixed-blood Utes.

This year, Chris Denver, a son of the plaintiff Charles Denver and a member of the Ute Distribution Corp. board of directors, petitioned to help form the tribe's Big Game Proclamation for 1989-90, the suit says.

However, the Tribal Business Committee denied the petition. Instead, the tribe issued the controversial hunting rule.

Although children of full-blood Utes are tribal members, children of mixed-blood Utes cannot inherit the hunting and fishing rights enjoyed by their parents. So under the reservation's new hunting rules, adult offspring of mixed-bloods can't accompany their parents.

"Because of the age of nearly all of the mixed-bloods, only two of the approximately 369 surviving mixed-bloods have children under age 18; but without assistance the mixed bloods cannot move, load or otherwise handle big game carcasses," the suit says.

"A lot of these (mixed-blood) people are in their 70s or 80s, and to say that they can't hunt with their kids is tantamount to saying they can't hunt at all," Wheeler told the Deseret News. "And we think the tribe recognized that."

The suit says full-blood Utes can hunt with their offspring of whatever age, because the children are also tribal members.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs informed the tribe that the rule prohibiting mixed-bloods from being accompanied by their children is discriminatory and unenforceable, Wheeler said.

"The tribe ignored that, and now they're issuing citations for violations," under the disputed rule.

Tribal Fish and Game officers issued a citation to Charles Denver, a mixed blood, for hunting accompanied by his sons Chris and Lance, who are over 18.

"Neither (son) was armed nor did either attempt to shoot or otherwise capture any animal," the suit says. "Chris and Lance Denver accompanied their father on the elk hunt to help him . . . in the event he was successful."

The suit asks the federal court to strike down the regulation plus "any other illegal or discriminatory provision of the (hunting) proclamation."

U.S. District Judge David K. Winder set a hearing for Friday on a request for a temporary restraining order against the tribe.