Utah and the Ute Tribe are at war

  • Existing reservation lands and land claimed by Utes in Utah

    Diane Sylvain
  • Teepe and mountains drawing

    Daine Sylvain
 

Page 2

The loss of the case and the conflict over the water compact have created great tension between the tribe, the state, and especially the Anglo residents of the Uintah Basin, who comprise 85 percent of the area's population.

In public meetings right after the Supreme Court decision, threats and counter-threats were exchanged. Some Anglos argued that the tribe should be disestablished; some Utes threatened to boycott Anglo businesses in Roosevelt, an Anglo enclave in the middle of the reservation. The tribal headquarters received a bomb threat. According to Ron Wopsock, a member of the tribal council, some Utes considered pulling their children out of local schools.

Many of the concerns voiced by Anglos living in the Uintah Basin are legitimate; they outnumber the Indians eight to one - a factor cited by the U.S. Supreme Court. And non-Indians resented being taxed and regulated by a government that did not permit them to vote. Brad Hancock, city manager of Roosevelt, says the Hagen decision is the first step toward solving these problems: "We can now clarify our jurisdictional boundaries. Then, the healing process can begin and a peaceful coexistence can happen."

But to the Utes, the case is just one more betrayal. Luke Duncan of the tribal council says, "We feel like we just can't trust white people. The jurisdiction case is far from over; it's going to affect everything we do for a long time."

Duncan and other tribal members believe that the tribe will find new ways to regain control of its destiny. There is talk of new taxes on non-Indians, and the tribe refuses to recognize county rights-of-way. But its most far-reaching muscle-flexing concerns water.

The builders of the CUP have known for years that the project could not proceed without settlement of Ute claims to reserved water rights. That is why the 1965 water agreement and the 1992 water settlement were negotiated. But many tribal members, bitter over the jurisdiction case, are concerned about language in the compact that gives the state greater control over their water. Luke Duncan and Curtis Cesspooch, tribal chairman and vice-chairman when the compact was negotiated, initially supported it. Now they are opposed. "After losing so much land in the jurisdiction case, it is tough to give up any rights to water," says Cesspooch.

Jonas Grant, tribal director of natural resources, is also bitter: "The people feel a lack of trust about the state; they keep trying to control what we have."

Because there is no compact, the massive project is left without a clear title to the water it is diverting from the reservation. Just when it appeared that the CUP was finally going to be completed, the tribe may be in a position to bring parts of it to a halt.

The tribe is lashing out at the CUP and Anglo water users in a number of ways. Last January the tribal council presented a bill to the Central Utah Water Conservancy District for $33 million for the "unauthorized diversion" of tribal water "pending resolution of the tribe's water rights claims." Until the water compact is ratified, the tribe can make a convincing argument that the Conservancy District does not have a contract for the water it is diverting from the reservation.

The tribe is also challenging the state by trying to lease water to the lower basin of the Colorado River. In January, tribal representatives met with Las Vegas water officials to discuss a water lease. At a recent meeting with the governor, the tribal council stated that out-of-state water marketing was a high priority.

Some of the Anglos in the basin believe the Utes are spoiling their chances for more federal water development funding under the CUP Completion Act. In a recent scoping report, the written comments reflected this sentiment. One local Anglo wrote that a dam in their area "was promised and we feel the government should live up to their end of the bargain. Don't let the environmentalists and Indians beat us out of this." Another concerned local wrote: "My biggest concern is being able to work together with the Indians. If we can't, we're wasting our time."

Overall, the long history of broken promises is making it nearly impossible to develop a viable water policy in the Uintah Basin. Water has become a weapon, and use of the weapon could spread. Other tribes and states are carefully monitoring developments in Utah.

Tribal council member Ron Wopsock talked about the damage done: "History tells us we can't trust white people. The trust just isn't there, and probably never will be."

As a result of the loss of trust, we in Utah may build a $3 billion water project but not have a right to the water in it.

 

Daniel McCool is an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah.

 

High Country News Classifieds
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...