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Reservation dispute goes to top U.S. court

Duchesne and Uintah counties have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision that upheld the original boundaries of the Uintah Valley Reservation.

Duchesne and Uintah County commissioners gave the OK for South Dakota attorney Tom Tobin to file the "writ of certiorari" when negotiations among the counties and Ute Tribe stalled for the third time while trying to reach an agreement over jurisdictional concerns. The writ was filed just a day before the filing deadline expired.In their court documents, Duchesne and Uintah counties contend the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals "misconstrued" a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court ruling by declaring the original Uintah Valley Reservation boundaries remained intact with only homestead lands removed from inside the boundaries. The counties maintain the high court's February 1993 ruling effectively erased the boundaries and reduced the reservation to just a little over a million acres of undisputed trust lands.

Throughout the three-month-long hot and cold negotiation process, county commissioners said they would abandon future litigation if an agreement was signed that would safeguard the rights of non-Indians living on former Indian allotments under tribal jurisdiction. About half of Duchesne County and portions of west Uintah County are included in "Indian country."

Tribal leaders said they would not impose jurisdiction on non-Indians living on former Indian allotments that the 10th Circuit Court confirmed were on the reservation if the counties would agree to sign off on a document saying they would never litigate the reservation's exterior boundaries again.

Although a compromise appeared close in early September, negotiations began unraveling shortly before a federal judge agreed to lift a 5-year old injunction that prevented Roosevelt from exercising civil and criminal authority over all tribal members. As homestead land, the city was off the reservation, according to the 10th Circuit Court ruling.

Since the injunction was lifted Sept. 9, Duchesne County Attorney Herb Gillespie said "there haven't been any real negotiations" among the tribe and the counties. County commissioners have said they would withdraw the petition to the Supreme Court at any time should negotiations resume and reach a successful conclusion.

It cost the two counties a total of $50,000 in legal bills to prepare to file the petition.