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It was a win for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Thursday when Federal Court Judge Lynn Winmill sided with the tribes in a long standing dispute between the tribes, Power County resident David Evans and the contractors who built his home.
Winmill dismissed a complaint filed by Evans and his building contractors, requiring them to go through Tribal Court first. The suit was instigated by Ken Esteppe and retired FMC plant manager Paul Yochum and was paid for with Power County taxpayer dollars.
The lawsuit alleged that the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes do not have jurisdiction to require him to obtain tribal building permits and that he is not subject to tribal land use laws. It was argued that the fee land on the reservation if open for development and use without regard to the tribal laws.
The federal court decision supported the tribes who say that "they do have jurisdiction over all people residing on the reservation regardless of land ownership and that jurisdiction disputes must be first be resolved in Tribal Court."
Winmill's court stressed that the tribes could have jurisdiction over Evans and other non-Indians who own land within the reservation.
"This is a great victory for the Tribes," said Tribal Chairman, Nathan Small. "Now the law is clear. Non-Indians who own fee land within our reservation must comply with tribal laws or take jurisdictional objections to Tribal Court."
"We hope Power County elected officials finally get the message and that they'll stop misinforming their constituents and stop wasting taxpayer money. This decision is a clear signal that it is time for Power County's elected officials to drop their crusade against the tribes and engage in a cooperative relationship."
Evans built a home on non-tribal-owned land in Arbon Valley within the boundaries of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. According to Small, Evans was contacted several times about getting proper building permits but he refused, saying that the tribe did not have the jurisdiction. One of the contractors involved did agree to abide by tribal laws and got a $100 permit, completely avoiding the litigation.
Tribal officials say that they will work reasonably with everyone on the reservation who respect that the tribes are a sovereign government. Officials believe that this is a landmark court decision that will be cited for years to come.