Members of the Timpanogos Tribe have failed to convince a Utah federal judge that they hold aboriginal rights to hunting and fishing on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation in eastern Utah.
U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell on Tuesday dismissed the tribe's September 2000 lawsuit, which sought a declaration that it has the right to issue hunting and fishing permits without interference from the Utah Department of Natural Resources or the Ute Indian Tribe.
The Timpanogos Tribe, which maintains it is part of the original Shoshone tribe for whom the reservation was set apart in October 1861, had asked Campbell to issue an injunction that would prevent state officials from prosecuting Timpanogos members found hunting or fishing on the reservation.
In her Tuesday order, however, Campbell noted the Timpanogos Tribe is not a federally recognized Indian tribe. She also cited the conclusions of two experts who concluded that the Timpanogos are Utes, not Shoshone, who have "no independent rights on the reservation."
According to the order, the Timpanogos Tribe was one of five bands of Utes that merged in 1865 to form the Uintah Utes. The Uintah tribe later joined with two other bands the Uncompahgre and White River Utes to form what is now known as the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.
Thus, Campbell concluded, the Timpanogos tribal members who filed the lawsuit are entitled only to those rights conveyed among the Ute tribal members.
Timpanogos attorney Jeffrey Colemere said he has not yet had an opportunity to review Tuesday's order with his clients, but will do so soon and make a decision about a possible appeal.
Some 900 Timpanogos tribal members live on the Uintah-Ouray reservation and seek to use the land for hunting, fishing and gathering both as a food source and for religious reasons. The Ute tribe, which has an arrangement with the state to issue permits for the land, refuses to offer permits to members of the Timpanogos Tribe, he said.
Colemere said the ruling leaves his clients, who sought a clear assertion of what they believe are their aboriginal rights, in limbo.
"It recognizes that there was an ancient Timpanogos Tribe, but basically leaves them without an identity," he said. "Which is unfortunate, because many of their customs come from Shoshone background."
The tribe did not offer its own expert testimony to rebut the conclusions that the tribe is actually Ute with no rights to the land. Rather, it submitted affidavits from two tribal members, Timpanogos chief executive Mary Meyer and Dave Montes, asserting their Shoshone heritage.
Both Meyer and Montes maintain they have no Ute Indian blood and have never been members of the Ute Tribe. Campbell dismissed the claims as "anecdotal information.""Plaintiff asks the court to make unreasonable inferences and leap to the conclusion that because Mr. Montes and his ancestors are not Ute, the (Timpanogos Tribe), whose members include Mr. Montes, is a Shoshone tribe in existence since aboriginal times and for whom the reservation was set aside," Campbell wrote. "The court will not make that leap, nor will it allow a jury to do so."
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