Native Americans

What will invariably get everyone’s attention about this case is it is the second 5-4 decision where Justice Gorsuch has joined the four more liberal Justices to rule in favor of a tribe. And a ruling in the Court’s most interesting tribal case of the term is yet to come. But none of this should distract from the holding of this case.    

The Supreme Court answered yes to the question in Herrera v. Wyoming of whether an old treaty allowing Native Americans to hunt on federal land is still valid. According to an amicus brief filed by the Crow Tribe “[a]t least nineteen tribes, in at least a dozen treaties, reserved for themselves the right to hunt on Federal lands away from their respective reservations.”

In 1868 the Crow Tribe ceded most of its territory in what is now Montana and Wyoming to the United States in exchange for an agreement the Crow could “hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United State.” Clayvin Herrera invoked this treaty to defend against a charge of violating state law by off-season hunting in Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming.

In a 5-4 opinion the Supreme Court held that the treaty’s hunting rights survived Wyoming’s statehood and that lands in the Bighorn National Forest aren’t categorically “occupied” because they are in a national reserve.

The issue in Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den Inc. is whether the “right to travel” provision of the Yakama Nation Treaty preempts Washington’s tax and permit requirements for importing fuel.

Article III of the Yakama Nation Treaty of 1858 states that “the right of way, with free access from the same to the nearest public highway, is secured to [the Yakama]; as also the right, in common with citizens of the United States, to travel upon all public highways.”

Herrera v. Wyoming is a case of dueling Supreme Court precedent.

Clayvin Herrera, a member of the Crow tribe, shot an elk in Big Horn National Forest in Wyoming. He was charged with hunting without a license during a closed season. Herrera claims that an 1868 treaty giving the Crow the right to hunt on the “unoccupied lands of the United States” allowed him to hunt on this land.

In Herrera v. Wyoming the Supreme Court will decide whether Wyoming's admission to the Union or the establishment of the Big Horn National Forest abrogated the Crow’s treaty right to hunt in Big Horn National Forest.

Would it surprise you to learn that more than 750,000 people in Oklahoma, including most Tulsa residents, live on an Indian reservation? That isn’t exactly what the Tenth Circuit held in Murphy v. Royal. But it illustrates what is at stake in this case, which the Supreme Court will decide next term.  

Patrick Murphy killed George Jacobs. Oklahoma prosecuted Murphy. Per the Major Crimes Act states lacks jurisdiction to prosecute Native Americans who commit murder in “Indian country.” Murphy is Native American. Murphy and Oklahoma disagree over whether the murder took place on a Creek Nation reservation.