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Wyoming Supreme Court Rules 1905 Act Diminished Wind River Reservation January 18, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in State Courts.

Yellowbear v. Wyoming, 2008 WY 4 (Wyo. Jan. 14, 2008)

Issue(s): Indian Country Crimes > State Jurisdiction >> Diminishment

When Congress, through legislation, diminishes an area of Indian Country, the State may gain jurisdiction over that area. An 1868 treaty established the Wind River Indian Reservation in northern Wyoming. In 1905, a surplus land act purported to cede a large area of the Reservation. Wyoming prosecuted Yellowbear for a crime committed in the ceded area. Did the 1905 act diminish the Wind River Indian Reservation, thus allowing Wyoming to exercise jurisdiction over Yellowbear?

According to the Wyoming Supreme Court, it did. Only Congress can diminish reservation boundaries and it must clearly intend to do so. Explicit language in the statute that claims to strip all tribal interests from the land is strong evidence of Congress’s intent. When combined with compensation for the land, a nearly “insurmountable presumption” arises that Congress meant to diminish the reservation. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, after-the-fact developments, such as a change in demographics, could (somehow) also reveal Congress’ past intent. The Court could not “help but conclude” that Congress intended to diminish the Wind River Indian Reservation. The surplus land act contained interest-ceding language and provide for some form of compensation. Though the government’s payment obligations were unclear, the Court found other factors pointed toward diminishment. Subsequent legislation and case law referred to the area as “diminished;” the Secretary of the Interior later “restored” a portion of the area; and non-Indians comprise 92 percent of the people living in the area. Therefore, Wyoming had jurisdiction over the area and the Court affirmed Yellowbear’s conviction.



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