© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

US Supreme Court Upholds Indigenous Treaty Rights In Wyoming Hunting Case

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the treaty right of a Crow tribal member to hunt bull elk off-reservation in Wyoming.
iStock.com / DJ_38
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the treaty right of a Crow tribal member to hunt bull elk off-reservation in Wyoming.

The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed Native American treaty rights in a narrow ruling Monday in favor of a Crow tribal member who argued he was allowed to hunt out-of-season on traditional lands in Wyoming.

The case stems from a January 2014 incident when Clayvin Herrera went outside the boundaries of the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana and harvested several bull elk in northern Wyoming.

Hunting big game animals during the winter is prohibited under Wyoming state law. The state government penalized Herrera and fined him more than $8,000.

But Herrera argued that he had the right to shoot those elk because of an 1868 treaty which allowed the Crow tribe to continue hunting on “unoccupied” lands outside the reservation boundaries in exchange for ceding most of its territory to the United States.

State trial courts, however, rejected Herrera's argument and said the treaty language was invalidated once Wyoming was granted statehood in 1890 and took jurisdictional control of those lands.

But the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the original treaty rights in a 5-4 decision.

“Wyoming’s admission into the Union did not abrogate the Crow Tribe’s off-reservation treaty hunting right,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the majority opinion. “There is no evidence in the treaty itself that Congress intended the hunting right to expire at statehood, or that the Crow Tribe would have understood it to do so. Nor does the historical record support such a reading of the treaty.”

The ruling reaffirms tribal sovereignty in the United States, according to Monte Mills, co-director of the University of Montana’s Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic.

“[This] may embolden tribes to pursue and assert these rights in other areas,” Mills said. “But they are still going to be subject to review and interpretation.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, a normally conservative vote on the bench, sided with the liberal majority in the 5-4 decision. This is the second time this year that Gorsuch has championed treaty rights on the Supreme Court.

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, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit .

Nate Hegyi is a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau based at Yellowstone Public Radio.
Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.