Tribes end suit against Power County resident

by Daniel Moore
Press Staff Writer

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes agreed to drop a suit against Power County resident David Evans in mid-July. The Tribes said Evans violated tribal law by not applying for tribal building permits before building a house on private land on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, but the Ninth District Court of Appeals said the Tribes had no jurisdiction over Evans in this case.

However, Mark EchoHawk, an attorney for the Tribes, said that does not mean the Tribes will stop attempting to prosecute violations of the tribal permitting laws on fee land, which is reservation land bought by non-tribal members.

“Other activity that occurs on his land or other fee land within the Reservation will continue to be subject to applicable Tribal laws. Jurisdiction to regulate is determined on a case by case basis.” wrote EchoHawk to The Press in an email.

However, Power County planning and zoning attorney Doug Balfour does not think any attempts by the Tribes to regulate people on fee land will go very far.

“It’s a tremendous victory for the county’s citizens. It finally answers all those questions. There’s absolutely no jurisdiction. It’s pretty clear,” Balfour said.

The court judgment ending the case was proceeded by a stipulation between Evans and the Tribes. The declaratory judgment, by Judge Lynn Winmall, clarifies the position of both the parties, but does not require action by either party.

According to the stipulation, “The parties stipulate that … this stipulation applies only to the named parties and the subject property owned by the Evans.”

The stipulation came after the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled that Evans did not have to go to Tribal Court for the violations, nor did it appear that the Tribes had any jurisdiction over Evans for building a home.

The court case was funded in part by a non-profit organization, Justice for Idaho Citizens, that was founded in Power County to help individuals dealing with tribal threats.

The Ninth District ruling was enough of a precedent, though, that Power County took action. County officials sent a letter to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, asking them to issue septic sewer permits to county residents on the reservation.

For a time, starting in 2011, The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, which issues septic system permits through local health districts, turned over all permitting powers to the Tribes for those living on the reservation.

The county letter said the precedent set by the Ninth District Court meant that the Tribes should not regulate septic systems over non-tribal members living on the reservation, and asked that the IDEQ to clarify the situation.

Maggie Mann, the director of the Southeastern Idaho Health Department, said the health department has been issuing septic system permits to non-tribal members living on the reservation for the last couple of years. The court decisions made it clear that that was the best decision, she said.

However, they do warn people that the Tribes may approach them about permitting there, and that permitting with the Tribes is up to them.

“We do tell them that people in that particular situation only need to permit with us,” she said.

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