Idaho tribe, county at odds over reservation land

Pocatello, Idaho (AP) May 2010

Officials with Bannock County and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes say the two sides will attempt to reach an agreement on who has authority over land within the Fort Hall Indian Reservation that’s owned by non-tribal members.

The Bannock County Planning and Development Council on Wednesday postponed proposed amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan until the two sides can reach a memorandum of understanding.

The Bannock County Comprehensive Plan adopted in June 2008 states the county doesn’t have jurisdiction over reservation lands. Proposed amendments would strike that language.

A new tribal ordinance that went into effect in April states the tribes’ regulatory authority extends to both Indian and non-Indian owned lands on the reservation.

The dispute involves “fee land,” property on the reservation purchased by non-tribal members from the tribes. About 3 percent of the 870-square-mile reservation is fee land, and it’s scattered throughout the reservation.

The tribe’s new ordinance was prompted by a religious sect that wanted to build a three-story, 18,000-square-foot structure on nearly 4 acres of fee land last year, a plan rejected by the tribes.

But local officials say the tribes’ assertion of jurisdiction goes too far, and some are doubtful an agreement can be reached.

“I think they’re really, really slim,” Bannock County Commissioner Steve Hadley told the Idaho State Journal. “We can work together on this issue, but to give them complete jurisdiction over (those lands), there’s no way the commissioners want to do that.”

The tribes, meanwhile, say they fully intend to regulate activity on the reservation that could harm the health and welfare of tribal members.

“That’s something we’re not willing to compromise on,” said tribal spokeswoman Laverne Beech. “We’re willing to talk, though.”

Both sides cite U.S. Supreme Court rulings as backing their arguments.

A possible avenue for agreement that’s been floated involves having environmental issues handled by the tribes, and other issues by the county. Septic tanks would be regulated by the tribes, for example, while the building of garages would be handled by the county.

“That’s a new one, so I think there is hope,” said Bannock County attorney Zach Parris. “This is something that needs to be, and should be, reconciled in an amicable way.”