The feds want a Ute tribe lawsuit staking claim to 2 million acres of eastern Utah dismissed

Posted at 8:36 AM, Oct 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-17 14:12:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The federal government is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Ute tribe staking claim to nearly two million acres of land in eastern Utah.

It's a lawsuit over a huge chunk of the state known as "the Uncompahgre" that the tribe has accused the federal government of essentially stealing. FOX 13 reported on the lawsuit in June.

A map of the Uncompahgre Ute reservation in the late 1800s. (Image via Utah State Historical Society archives)

The Ute tribe alleges in its lawsuit that in the late 1800s, the Uncompahgre band of the Utes were ousted from their lands in eastern Utah and portions of Colorado. However, they claim they were never compensated for the land as promised in mineral, water and grazing rights. The Utes want the land back and roughly a billion dollars in reparations.

But in a new court filing asking a judge to dismiss the Ute tribe's lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Interior claims the tribe waived its rights to the land and everything on it under a $125 million settlement agreement in 2012 in another piece of litigation.

"The Settlement Agreement went on to explain that this waiver included, but was not limited to, any claims or allegations that the United States 'failed to preserve, protect, safeguard, or maintain [the Tribe]’s non-monetary trust assets or resources,' 'failed to manage [the Tribe]’s non-monetary trust assets or resources appropriately,' 'failed to prevent trespass on [the Tribe]’s nonmonetary trust assets or resources,' 'improperly or inappropriately transferred, sold, encumbered, allotted, managed, or used [the Tribe]’s non-monetary trust assets or resources,' and 'failed to deposit monies into trust funds or disburse monies from trust funds in a proper and timely manner,'" the motion states.

The tribe is expected to respond to the court filing as the case moves forward in a Washington, D.C. federal court.

Members of the Uncompahgre band of the Ute Tribe in this photo from 1906. (Image via Utah State Historical Society archives)

The lawsuit has quietly proceeded in the courts, but has worried Utah political leaders. They've expressed concerns about so much land stretching through Duchesne, Uintah and Grand counties, as well as the natural resources and state trust lands inside the Uncompahgre.

"This is a case of epic proportions that kind of slid under the radar," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in an interview with FOX 13 in June.

Reyes' office has contemplated intervening in the lawsuit to protect state interests, which has angered the tribe. Utah Governor Gary Herbert has also expressed concerns about the tribe's lawsuit and its impact on the state's relationship with the Utes.

Read the government's response here: