Crow Tribe maintains right to hunt on off-reservation treaty land

A view of the Bighorn Mountains. Photo from National Park Service

The Crow Tribe of Montana maintains the right to hunt on off-reservation treaty lands but the state of Wyoming isn't in agreement.

The 1868 Treaty with the Crows includes what appears to be pretty clear language on the matter. It states that tribal members "shall have the right to hunt on the 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."

But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Ward v. Race Horse cast doubt on those rights. Although the case didn't involve the Crow Tribe -- it originated from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho, whose 1869 treaty includes identical language regarding off-reservation hunting -- Wyoming believes the ruling applies to all tribal members.

“The main ground for the Ward court’s decision was that statehood and the tribal right to hunt unregulated by the state are essentially irreconcilable,” law professor Debra Donahue told The Casper Star-Tribune. “If tribal members wanted to hunt they would have to hunt under state law.”

Race Horse was decided in 1896. Since then, Wyoming has continued to investigate and prosecute tribal members for hunting, including a new case involving three Crows who were cited for taking elk from the Bighorn Mountains.

One of the defendants has pleaded guilty. The two others are challenging the state's authority and intend to raise the treaty as a defense if the case gets to that stage, the attorney for one of the hunters told the Star-Tribune.

Get the Story:
Game and Fish, Crow Nation, at odds over Wyoming hunting right (The Casper Star-Tribune 4/9)

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