Mayor who led Roosevelt during '97 tribal boycott 'saddened' by lack of progress

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3 2013 7:42 p.m. MDT

A long-simmering dispute over who has the right to enforce the law in the northeastern Utah appeared to inch closer to the boiling point Friday when Ute Indian Tribe leaders called for a boycott of businesses in Roosevelt.

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ROOSEVELT — One of the city's former mayors expressed disappointment Tuesday that a long-running feud between the city and the Ute Indian Tribe is still unresolved and has once again led to a call for a tribal boycott of businesses in Roosevelt.

"It saddened me to see that in 15 years we haven't made any progress," said Dennis Jenkins, who served six years as mayor and was in office during the tribe's 1997-98 boycott of the city.

The problem then, as it is now, is a dispute over who has the legal authority to arrest and prosecute enrolled tribal members in parts of the Uintah Basin that were once part of the Ute Tribe's reservation, or are still within the reservation's exterior boundaries.

Despite a number of federal court decisions on the issue — including a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held Roosevelt is no longer part of the reservation — the fight over jurisdiction has grown more heated in the past two years.

During that time, Ute leaders have repeatedly accused state, county and municipal law enforcement officers of habitually harassing tribal members. In response to that alleged harassment, the tribe's Business Committee, which exercises executive and legislative power within the Ute government, called for a boycott Friday of all nontribal businesses in Roosevelt.

The Business Committee also called on companies doing business with the tribe to join the boycott, which does not include oil and natural gas companies with offices in Roosevelt.

The Deseret News spoke with three Roosevelt business owners Tuesday who said tribal members are still frequenting their companies, despite the call for a boycott. All three said the impact of the boycott on their bottom line remains to be seen, and none wanted their name or the name of their businesses used due to concerns about possible backlash from the tribe's leadership.

Roosevelt city officials have flatly denied any knowledge of racial profiling by members of the police department. They say they have asked tribal leaders for specific evidence of officer misconduct, but have not received it.

In addition to their claims of racial profiling, tribal leaders say the boycott is also motivated by their frustration with the city's refusal to come to the negotiating table to discuss a cooperative law enforcement agreement.

For the tribe to sign such an agreement, it would likely have to contain a provision that would give the Ute Tribal Court jurisdiction over misdemeanor offenses committed by tribal members in Roosevelt.

City leaders, however, say there is no need for them to take part in those negotiations because federal court rulings have settled the issue of law enforcement jurisdiction within city limits.

Jenkins said he understands there are things neither side will be willing to give up in this dispute. But he believes tribal and nontribal officials must put their differences aside for the good of those who call the region home.

"I don't think we have to give up everything and the tribe doesn't have to give up everything," he said. "But I think there's some middle ground that we can shake hands and say, 'Let's make this basin grow, rather than keep it the same way it was 15 years or 20 years ago.'"

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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