VERNAL — Whether a father and son's Native American heritage allowed them to hunt and kill a trophy deer on Native American land without a state license is a central question in a 3-year-old case coming before the Utah Court of Appeals next week.
Although the state has, on appeal, conceded that Rick Reber, 53, and his son Colton, 16, were on Ute Tribe trust land, for the men to believe they could legally hunt there without a permit is unreasonable, court documents state.
Whether the state court has jurisdiction in the case is also an issue. Mike Humiston, attorney for the men, said his clients should have been tried in federal court because they were hunting in the Book Cliffs, land that is within the boundaries of the Ute Indian Reservation.
Rick Reber, who grew up in Uintah County and now resides in Mantua in Box Elder County, was cited in October 2002 and convicted by an 8th District Court jury in Vernal in March 2004 of third-degree felony aiding in the wanton destruction of protected wildlife. The case against Colton Reber, 13 years old when he was cited, was adjudicated in juvenile court on felony wanton destruction of protected wildlife for shooting a trophy buck deer.
The Rebers acknowledge they were hunting without a license, but claim their Native American heritage — Rick Reber's parents are terminated Uintah Band members whose names were taken off the rolls of the Ute Indian Tribe in 1954 — gives them the legal right to hunt in the Book Cliffs. Rick Reber, who was born a member of the Uintah Band just prior to termination, is not listed on the termination roll.
"This case should have been brought in federal court. Once it's in federal court we can address all the Uintah (band) issues," said Humiston. "One of the reasons this case has gotten so complicated is because the state of Utah is acting outside its jurisdiction . . . . This was in Indian country, therefore it should be under federal jurisdiction, end of story."
According to court records, Rick Reber is not entitled to "Indian status" because his blood quantum is 94 percent non-Indian and he is not enrolled in a federally recognized Indian tribe. However, according to Humiston, Reber is still eligible for tribal hunting privileges because of his membership in the Uintah Band, which possesses "unabrogated treaty rights," independent of the Ute Tribe.
In issuing his decision last year, Judge Payne found that Rick Reber was not entitled to the hunting and fishing rights his parents enjoy because those rights cannot be passed down from one generation to the next.
The state is represented by Utah Assistant Attorney General Joanne Slotnik, who agreed the case is complex but said it essentially hinges on Rick Reber's claim that he is a Native American.
"In the state's view he is not Indian, and that is where the case begins and ends," said Slotnik. "The Termination Act is the complete red herring, it simply doesn't have anything to do with his status. His mother was a terminated Ute and he was never a Ute. The state's view is that is irrelevant before this court."
The appellate court hearing is on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 9:30 a.m.