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Tribal Hunting Rights In Mountain West Take Center Stage At Supreme Court

Clayvin Herrera poses for a picture on the plaza of the Supreme Court, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Washington.
Alex Brandon
Clayvin Herrera poses for a picture on the plaza of the Supreme Court, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Washington.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could restore tribal hunting rights in Wyoming, which could affect tribes throughout our region.

In 2014, a Wyoming court fined Crow Tribe member Clayvin Herrera for hunting an elk out of season on public lands.

Herrera pushed back saying a federal treaty protects his right to hunt off the reservation. But Wyoming countered that treaty was signed before it joined the union so it doesn’t count.

“Over and over and over again the Supreme Court has actually come to the exact opposite conclusion,” Dylan Heddon-Nicely, director of University of Idaho's Native American Law Program, says.

But he says Wyoming is relying on an earlier SCOTUS ruling in the late 1800s that sided with the state in a similar case involving an Idaho Chief named Racehorse with the region’s Shoshone-Bannock tribe.    

Racehorse’s great-great-grandson, Gaylen Edmo, says the outcome of the case means a lot to him personally.

“I think it’s important as a tribe to constantly do what we can to have our aboriginal rights recognized – not only our aboriginal territories, but our practices that we had in those areas,” Edmo says.

The 24-year-old student says part of why he's working to earn a law degree is because he grew up hearing about his relative who got caught up in this case. Edmo hunts and fishes off of tribal lands in Idaho, but he says it would mean a lot to him to be able to do so again in Western Wyoming.

"We'd go up there and we'd harvest elk and different big game animals like we have since time in memorial and, in essence, [the Racehorse decision] harmed our treaty rights."

A ruling is expected this spring.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

James Dawson joined Boise State Public Radio as the organization's News Director in 2017. He oversees the station's award-winning news department. Most recently, he covered state politics and government for Delaware Public Media since the station first began broadcasting in 2012 as the country's newest NPR affiliate. Those reports spanned two governors, three sessions of the Delaware General Assembly, and three consequential elections. His work has been featured on All Things Considered and NPR's newscast division. An Idaho native from north of the time zone bridge, James previously served as the public affairs reporter and interim news director for the commercial radio network Inland Northwest Broadcasting. His reporting experience included state and local government, arts and culture, crime, and agriculture. He's a proud University of Idaho graduate with a bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. When he's not in the office, you can find James fly fishing, buffing up on his photography or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.