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Shoshones claim hunting rights under court ruling

RIVERTON — A United States Supreme Court ruling that an 1868 tribal treaty still grants Crow Indian tribal members the right to hunt and fish on "unoccupied lands" without state enforcement in the country may have done the same for Eastern Shoshone and Shoshone-Bannock tribal members as well.

The 1868 Treaty with the Crow Tribe was upheld by the high court in "Herrera v. Wyoming" – a poaching case that started in Sheridan County in 2014 and ended in the Supreme Court in May, with the verdict that hunting rights in the 150-year-old document did not expire when Wyoming became a state in 1890.

The fourth article of the treaty states that Crow tribal members for whom the Crow reservation is a "permanent home … shall have the right to hunt on unoccupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon, and as long as peace subsists among the whites and Indians on the borders of the hunting districts."

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe and its "sister tribe," the Shoshone-Bannock, signed a treaty in the same year that guaranteed them hunting rights in almost identical language: That document is known as the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868.

The agreement established peace between tribal members and whites – but it set aside other rights and stipulations for the two tribes as well, including peace, protection of the law, certain provisions, and hunting rights.

Some issues relevant to the Herrera case and the hunting compacts mentioned in it are still under consideration in the legal system, having been remanded back to the state courts of Wyoming for further definition.

While those kinks are being worked out, the Wyoming Game and Fish will enforce hunting and fishing laws as it did before.

Game and Fish public relations agent Rebecca Fitzgerald said that "management on the ground is still the same" as it was before "Herrera," pending further definition of the high court's ruling.

She said two of the issues remanded are the definition of "unoccupied" lands as stated in the treaties, as well as the formation of conservation compacts that will uphold "peace" on hunting borders between tribal and state governments.

She added that deciding whether Yellowstone National Park and other national refuge sites are considered "unoccupied" will be another challenge going forward.

”Nothing has changed for how we handle wildlife management on the ground" so far, said Fitzgerald. She also noted that the Game and Fish has reached out to the EST but has not met formally on the topic of the Supreme Court change yet.

Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill said that since the case is still pending, she is unable to comment.

Wyoming legislators met with the Eastern Shoshone Business Council and Shoshone-Bannock Tribe Chairman Ladd Edmo to discuss the implementation of tribe-drafted hunting regulations and their interaction with state laws covering off-reservation hunting.

ESBC Chairman Vernon Hill said that in the aftermath of "Herrera v. Wyoming" the Shoshone people "reserve certain hunting rights" for off-reservation, unoccupied lands.

"It is important to note that the tribe ceded millions of acres of valuable lands that made way for the state of Wyoming to come into being as a legal entity,” Hill said. “The tribe wanted something in return: the right to hunt on unoccupied lands in the United States."

He added that "we would never have ceded the lands had we known that our ability to hunt game that we have hunted since time immemorial would be geographically severed from us.

“On the flip side,” he continued, “if the treaty is no longer in effect, then we would gladly take back millions of acres that the tribe ceded.”

Legislators on the tribal relations committee voiced optimism not only about upholding the treaty, but forging a working relationship between the tribe and the Wyoming Game and Fish that would pool biological game data and establish independent draw and season systems for each entity in the name of conservation.

The tribe held a General Council meeting in recent weeks to address the changes, appointing a committee to draft hunting regulations. Committee member and enrolled EST member Michael Garvin said conservation is paramount.

"We're not just going out slaughtering," he said. "We want to recognize our treaty rights as public policy as we've always done."

Garvin added that there will be seasons and limitations in tribal off-reservation hunting, just as there are in state hunting policy.

"Our on-reservation hunting is governed by rules and regulations; our fish and game wardens enforce all the rules and regulations," and off-reservation hunting would be enforced likewise, he said. "We just want to get back our identity … and hunting is a lot of that."

Although the Northern Arapaho Tribe cohabits the Wind River Indian Reservation with the EST, the former did not receive an enumeration of hunting rights from the U.S. government in treaty form, and therefore is not affected directly by the decision in "Herrera."

However, State Rep. and Northern Arapaho enrolled member Andrea Clifford, D-Ethete, expressed her well wishes for her neighbor tribe, saying "I'm optimistic, and will do everything in my power to help the Eastern Shoshone Tribe do this as well.”

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