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The Ute Indian Tribe has reached a series of agreements with the state and two counties that the tribe said Tuesday were "a substantial step" toward resolving a 40-year-old federal lawsuit over law and regulatory jurisdictional issues.
The tribe's governing Business Committee said reservation lands had not been diminished and that a "particular focus of the agreements is providing effective law enforcement in the Uintah Basin."
"What the tribe is seeking is to continue to live in peace as a tribe on its lands," Ute Business Committee Chairman Shaun Chapoose said in a news release. "The tribe will never give in on this issue, which has then led to this costly and combative litigation between the tribe and state."
The agreements came as a result of discussions involving Gov. Gary Herbert and Uintah and Duschesne county commissioners, the tribe said in a news release.
In a statement, Herbert said the "agreement does not resolve all issues, but it does represent a new beginning as tribal, state and county leaders joined together in a spirit of cooperation."
The governor's office provided copies of the agreements. Provisions include:
• Cross-deputization of state and local officers, tribal police and Bureau of Indian Affairs officers to allow them to enforce laws within the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation and in areas within the original reservation that are no longer part of it. But state and local officers are not permitted to patrol reservation lands off of state highways and county roads, and any party can terminate the agreement with 60 days' notice.
• Cases involving tribal members charged with misdemeanors on nontribal lands but located within the original reservation boundaries are to be handled by Tribal Court. The agreement runs for 10 years, but it can be ended by any party with 60 days' notice.
• In return for the agreement on prosecuting misdemeanors in Tribal Court, the tribe agreed to refrain from exercising civil and regulatory authority over reservation lands owned by nonmembers. Those activities include zoning, licensing, environmental regulation and the collection of taxes and fees. The agreement can be terminated by the tribe with 60 days' notice.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said while issues still remain, the agreements are a "significant move in the right direction, toward mutual understanding, cooperation, health, safety, prosperity and respect."
His office will make training and educational resources available to tribal law officers, Reyes said in a statement.
The boundaries issues and whether state and local law enforcement had jurisdiction over Utes on tribal land became the focus of a lawsuit filed by the tribe in 1975 that is still active today. The contentious litigation also has been before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals eight times.
The 10th Circuit rulings have largely favored the tribe. In 1985, the court rejected Utah's claims that congressional actions had shrunk three areas of the reservation. After confusing legal decisions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, part of the reservation was diminished, but the 10th Circuit declined to shrink it further.
In 2015, the 10th Circuit also ordered federal court in Utah to issue an injunction to prevent the state's renewed attempt to prosecute tribal members for violations occurring within reservation boundaries.