Utah's federal judges have given the Ute Indian Tribe and mixed-blood organizations until June 8 to resolve their dispute over hunting and fishing rights on the eastern Utah reservation.
"This is the closest thing to a domestic-relations quarrel I've seen," U.S. District Chief Judge Bruce S. Jenkins said last week during a hearing on three suits against the tribe."It's as much a question of attitude as a question of law. Do you want to settle this case or do you just want to keep quarreling?" he said.
Jenkins and Judges J. Thomas Greene, David K. Winder, David Sam and Aldon J. Anderson met to obtain an outline of what the three lawsuits entailed and to determine where they may overlap.
The suits stem from a longstanding conflict between full-blooded members of the Ute Tribe and people who have some Ute ancestry but not enough to qualify as full-blooded.
The Ute Partition Act passed by Congress in 1954 recognized that mixed bloods have rights equivalent to those of full bloods but said the rights cannot be passed on to mixed bloods' descendants.
Court documents indicate there are now only 369 people who qualify as mixed bloods.
The act gave mixed bloods 28 percent of those tribal assets that could be divided and stipulated that the tribe and a representative of the mixed bloods should manage jointly those assets that could not be divided.
Hunting and fishing rights on the reservation were determined to be indivisible assets in a 1985 ruling by Jenkins.
Mixed bloods contend the Ute Tribe has prevented them from sharing equally in the use and management of the assets. The tribe contends its actions have been necessary to preserve the integrity of those assets from misuse by relatives of the mixed bloods.
One suit was filed last October after Charles Denver, a mixed blood from Roosevelt, was issued a ticket by a tribal officer for elk hunting on the reservation with his two adult sons.
The tribe had passed a big-game-hunting regulation specifying that mixed bloods could hunt on the reservation only with their spouse or children under age 18.
Denver and a mixed-blood group called Affiliated Ute Citizens maintain that the regulation is discriminatory against mixed bloods.