Yakama Nation to have full authority over civil, criminal proceedings on tribal land

By KIMATV.com Staff

 

YAKIMA, Wash. — Federal officials have accepted a petition that will give Yakama Nation authorities exclusive jurisdiction for certain cases on tribal land, and will have the State of Washington withdraw from any authority.

The United States Department of the Interior said in a news release Monday that ‘retrocession’ has been granted, and tribal police and courts will have full authority over civil and criminal cases involving members of the nation.

The federal government will retain their authority over the Nation, and Yakama Nation authority will remain the same. The removal of state authority over tribal persons is the only change to come from this decision.

The state will keep jurisdiction over those involving non-tribal defendants, plaintiffs or victims.

As part of the agreement the federal Office of Justice Services (OJS) assessed the Yakama Nation’s court system and offered recommendations for improvements to their tribal court operations, as well as helped develop a 3-5 year plan.

The Yakama Nation also created ten new police officer positions, in preparation of having more cases to handle.

OJS also donated $149,000 to the help bolster the tribal court system by improving the court’s infrastructure, increase pay for law-trained judges, hire a legal assistant and court administrator, and provide training to tribal judges, prosecutors, and defenders on issues like domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect.

Washington lawmakers established a process for tribes to ask for exclusive jurisdiction in 2012. Washington has become the sixteenth state to rescind its authority over tribal court proceedings involving only tribal members.

Governor Jay Inslee agreed to the Yakama Nation’s petition last year. The change will officially take effect in April.

View here to see the full release from the United States Department of the Interior.

Yakima, Klickitat counties concerned about Yakama Nation retrocession petition

By Kate Prengaman, Yakima Herald-Republic

As the federal government moves toward approving the Yakama Nation’s retrocession petition — which returns civil and criminal jurisdiction over tribal members on the reservation from the state back to the tribe — officials in Yakima and Klickitat counties are concerned that some questions remain unanswered.

In Klickitat County, commissioners want to know how retrocession would affect a long-standing boundary dispute, and officials in Yakima County want to ensure there’s a formal plan detailing how tribal and local law enforcement agencies will work together once the retrocession is approved.

The concerns arose, in part, because retrocession is rare. The Yakama Nation was the first tribe to propose it since state lawmakers approved the process in 2011 and Gov. Jay Inslee signed the retrocession proclamation in January 2014.

The Yakama Nation’s leaders and Inslee praised it as a strong step toward greater sovereignty for the tribe to regain authority over its people.

It’s known as retrocession because it returns certain criminal and civil authorities to the tribal government that the state took over in 1963 under a federal law known as Public Law 280.

Once approved by the Secretary of the Interior, tribal police and tribal courts would have jurisdiction over issues involving tribal members on the reservation while the state would retain its authority over all criminal cases involving nontribal members.

It sounds straightforward, but the details get complicated quickly.

Since the 1.2 million-acre reservation is actually a patchwork of tribal trust land, incorporated towns and lands within the reservation that are owned by nontribal members, it’s likely to create logistical challenges for law enforcement.

Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey said the county, along with the cities of Toppenish and Wapato, are worried that the petition might be approved before law enforcement protocols are agreed upon.

“We’re not opposed to the petition, we just want to figure out the details before the Secretary of the Interior signs off on it, rather than after the fact,” Bouchey said. “It comes down to public safety for tribal members and nontribal members on the reservation and we need an established working relationship to do that.”

Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter echoed Bouchey’s concerns. Development of this type of formal agreement between law enforcement agencies is encouraged in the state’s retrocession law, but is not required.

Bouchey said the county has drafted a letter expressing its concerns to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which it plans to send this week.

A spokeswoman for the federal agency confirmed in an email that the petition is under review by the BIA with input from the Department of Justice, but did not offer any details. Request for comment from the Yakama Nation’s Tribal Council was not returned.

Klickitat County leaders sent their letter to BIA Secretary Ken Washburn in April to request clarification on how the governor’s proclamation defines the exterior boundaries of the Yakama Reservation. Sauter recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the issue with the agency and Washington’s elected officials as well.

The county’s concern centers on a disputed 95,000 acres of land to the southeast of Mount Adams that is known as “Tract D.” It includes Glenwood, an unincorporated community of about 700.

The Yakama Nation has long claimed the land as within its boundaries, including in its published maps. But Klickitat County officials say the land has clearly been in the county’s jurisdiction under state and federal law for more than 100 years.

The concern for Glenwood residents is that the retrocession proclamation says it applies to everything within the reservation’s boundaries, and the county wants reassurance that the state and federal interpretation of those reservation boundaries doesn’t change, said Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney David Quesnel.

“There’s been issues going on for years, like the disputes over liquor licenses a few years ago, because the tribe has taken the position that Tract D is within its exterior boundaries,” Quesnel said. “We want to make it abundantly clear that Tract D would not be included.”

Glenwood-area residents told the Goldendale Sentinel that they didn’t want to have to go to the Yakama Nation’s Tribal Court to get divorced or to deal with traffic tickets or criminal charges.

But those concerns appear unfounded because the retrocession proclamation only returns jurisdiction over tribal members to the tribe, it doesn’t give the tribe authority over nontribal members, said Yakima County civil prosecutor Terry Austin.

The exceptions would be for civil matters such as domestic relations or juvenile delinquency for families in which one parent is a tribal member. Then, either the tribal court or state courts could decide the case.

As far as the boundary dispute, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said the retrocession proclamation deals only with jurisdiction and does not in any way change existing reservation boundaries. In fact, the governor does not have the authority to change reservation boundaries, which is a federal issue.

In a 2000 federal court case over the Yakama Nation’s attempts to ban alcohol sales on the reservation, the state argued that “Tract D was not historically considered to be within the surveyed boundaries of the Yakama Reservation” and the state does not recognize it as being within the exterior boundaries.

The court later threw out the tribe’s attempts to ban alcohol sales in the reservation’s incorporated towns where a majority of the nontribal residents live, limiting the tribe’s authority to regulate nontribal members.

The retrocession petition also keeps existing limits on the tribe’s authority over reservation residents who are not tribal members, but expands its ability to self-govern. Once the details get worked out, county officials say they support that.

“They have a right to self-regulation and we’re not trying to interfere with that; we just want clarification,” Quesnel said.

Feds accuse 15 people of stealing Yakama Nation scholarship funds

By Kate Prengaman, Yakima Herald-Republic

TOPPENISH, Wash. — Fifteen people, including an interim manager and former manager, are facing federal charges for allegedly stealing $179,000 worth of scholarships from the Yakama Nation Higher Education Program.

The suspects were awarded a total of 67 checks ranging from $1,000 to $6,500 for studies at colleges and universities that reported the students had never enrolled or completed coursework, according to the indictments handed down in U.S. District Court in Yakima.

According to investigators, the fraudulent scholarship applications were submitted between 2009 and 2012.

The tribe’s higher education program administered both federal Bureau of Indian Affairs student assistance funding and the tribe’s own scholarship program. Estimates of how much money was available for scholarships through the program each year was not available Wednesday.

Calls to the Yakama Nation Tribal Council requesting comment were not returned.

FBI agents and Yakama Nation police arrested 11 people on Tuesday, said Ayn Dietrich, an FBI spokeswoman in Seattle. They made court appearances in Yakima on Tuesday.

Those not arrested were expected to report to court this week, Dietrich said.

Among those indicted were Priscilla Marie Gardee, interim manager of the program, and Delford Neaman, former manager. Also indicted were Phillip Stevens, Anthony Linn Gardee, Sophia Leta Gardee, Tamera Jean Gardee, Latonia Wheeler, Cynthia A. Arthur, Crystal L. Miller, Arnetta Amy Blodgett, Brycene Allen Neaman, Gilbert Onepennee, Odessa P. Johnson, Phillip A. Burdeau Sr. and Susan Aleck.

According to program documentation from 2013, scholarship funding was to go to Yakama students attending a college or university full time. Awards were granted at the rate of $1,500 per academic year for undergraduate students and $3,000 a year for graduate students. Students who withdrew from school were required to refund their scholarships.

Yakama Nation Sues Army Corps Over Columbia River Cleanup

Yakama_Sue_Army

For decades the Army Corps of Engineers used Bradford Island near the Bonneville Dam as a dumping ground. Toxic chemicals leaked into the Columbia River. The island is also a historic fishing site for the Yakama Nation. | credit: Flickr Creative Commons: A. F. Litt

 

By Courtney Flatt, NPR

For decades the Army Corps of Engineers used an island near the Bonneville Dam as a dumping ground. Toxic chemicals leaked into the Columbia River. The island is also a historic fishing site for the Yakama Nation.

The tribe is now suing the Corps to recover costs from helping clean up the contamination.

In 2003, the Corps removed electrical equipment and contaminated sediment found at the bottom of the river. In 2007, it dredged the area to remove more contaminated soil.

Tests show toxic materials like PCBs, which were banned in the 1970s, are still found in resident fish – even after the Corps finished cleaning up Bradford Island. The Yakama Nation says the PCB counts in resident fish are higher now than before the cleanup. No one is really sure why, but it’s possibly because of the way the sediment was disturbed.

Rose Longoria, the superfund coordinator with the Yakama Nation, said the tribe was not reimbursed for its efforts to help cleanup the site. The tribe is asking for about $93,000, although that number could change.

“More importantly, we want to make sure that we have a very definitive role in the decision making process so that we can ensure that the cleanup actually is protective not only the resident fish but all the resources in that area,” Longoria said.

The Corps is looking at several options to continue cleaning up the island. A feasibility study is expected to be completed in 2015.

A Corps spokeswoman said she had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

PCB map
A map of PCB fish concentrations in Washington.

 

Longoria said the Bradford Island cleanup is one of Yakama Nation’s top priorities, simply because of the level of contamination in the fish — and high counts of PCBs of other animals in the area, like osprey that eat small-mouth bass in the contaminated area.

Oregon and Washington have issued a do-not-eat fish consumption advisory for resident fish one mile upstream of Bonneville Dam. Migratory fish like salmon are still okay to eat.

“The PCBs in that resident fish tissue are a magnitude higher than PCBs in fish tissue in other locations,” Longoria said. “It’s rather astonishing how contaminated those fish are.”

 

Tribes Object To Forced Opening Of ‘Sacred Mountain’ To Public

Rattlesnake Mountain as seen from the Horn Rapids area near Richland, Washington.Umptanum Wikimedia

Rattlesnake Mountain as seen from the Horn Rapids area near Richland, Washington.
Umptanum Wikimedia

 

By Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

The Yakama Nation and neighboring tribes are strongly objecting to a Congressional move to offer public access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain, a place tribal members consider sacred.

The mountain lies in the Hanford Reach National Monument near Richland, Washington.

Central Washington’s outgoing Republican Congressman Doc Hastings authored the requirement that the federal government provide some degree of public access. The provision is now tacked on to a must-pass defense spending bill.

Access to the windswept, treeless mountain overlooking the Hanford nuclear site is currently highly restricted. Philip Rigdon supervises the Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources. He said the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain should remain off-limits to the general public.

“The mountain is a place that is critical to our culture, our religion and the ceremonies that we continue to perform today,” Rigdon said.

But Rigdon’s arguments may be in vain. A Democratic Senate staffer said the defense spending bill now includes so many unrelated member requests, it’s expected to pass by a wide margin this week.

Last week, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act won U.S. House approval on a bipartisan 300-119 vote. Many public lands provisions that have been bottled up in the divided Congress for years have now been folded into the mammoth bill.

Some of the measures of Northwest interest would expand the Oregon Caves National Monument and Alpine Lakes Wilderness and protect the Hanford B Reactor as part of a new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Representative Hastings had long sought to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the relevant land manager, through legislation to provide greater access to Rattlesnake Mountain. The House unanimously passed such a bill in 2013, but it died without a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“The views of Indian tribes are legitimate, and they have a right to be heard and consulted,” Hastings said during an earlier House committee hearing. “But the views of local communities and all citizens also deserve to be heard and listened to — and there is overwhelming local public support for access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain.”

“The public should expect that if they can visit the summit of Mt. Rainier, then they certainly should be allowed to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain,” Hastings said as he described the “unparalled views” of the Columbia Basin from the ridge. A gated, paved road leads to the summit.

The Native American name for Rattlesnake Mountain is “Laliik.” Rigdon said Columbia Plateau tribes such as the Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce want to preserve the “spiritual” qualities of a holy place.

“It’s astonishing to me that we continue this total disregard for our religion, our ceremonies and this place that has provided for us,” concluded Rigdon.

“Laliik is our Mount Sinai,” Yakama tribal Chairman JoDe Goudy wrote in a recent letter to U.S. senators. “When our Long House leaders feel that a young adult is ready and worthy, Laliik is where they are sent to fast and to have vision quests. This is not a place for Airstreams and Winnebagos.”

The Rattlesnake Mountain provision is one of several aspects of the defense spending bill that trouble tribes. The Yakama Nation chairman also wrote to oppose the transfer of more than 1,000 acres of surplus land at the urbanized edge of the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site for economic development.

Northwest tribes are also joining in solidarity with Native bands in the Southwest who object to the transfer of Tonto National Forest land to a private company that plans to mine for copper.

Going For Launch With The Salmon Cannon

Washington Deparment of Fish and Wildlife crews load 30-pound fall chinook salmon into the salmon cannon. The cannon sucks the fish up to a truck at 22 miles per hour. The fish will then be driven to a nearby hatchery. | credit: Courtney Flatt

Washington Deparment of Fish and Wildlife crews load 30-pound fall chinook salmon into the salmon cannon. The cannon sucks the fish up to a truck at 22 miles per hour. The fish will then be driven to a nearby hatchery. | credit: Courtney Flatt

 

By: Aaron Kunz, Northwest Public Radio

 

WASHOUGAL, Wash. — Salmon may soon have a faster way to make it around dams. There’s a new technology that’s helping to transport hatchery fish in Washington. It’s called the salmon cannon — yes, you read that right.

First, let’s set the record straight: there’s not really an explosion. But the salmon cannon does propel fish from one spot to another.

That was demonstrated Tuesday, when the salmon cannon transported fish from southwest Washington’s Washougal River to a nearby hatchery. The goal is to make the move easier on the fish, in three steps.

Watch the video: The Salmon Cannon In Action

 

 

First, the cannon: A long, flexible tube stretches out of the river. At one end, crew members wade into the river. They heave up a 30-pound fall chinook salmon and lift it into the tube.

The fish is sucked up the 110-foot tube at about 22 miles per hour. And then it plops out into a truck filled with water and swims around.

“It’s almost magical the way the fish will move through the system. It’s like a slip and slide, going uphill,” said Vince Bryan, the CEO of Seattle-based Whooshh Innovations, the company that’s engineering the salmon cannon.

After the truck is filled with about 100 fish, they’ll be driven to a nearby hatchery. These fall chinook salmon will be used to help breed next year’s hatchery runs for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Eric Kinne, the department’s hatchery reform coordinator for southwest Washington, said the fish are less stressed with the salmon cannon. Before this, salmon were transported with a forklift and tote container.

“We would have to fill it with water and put the fish in. Then we’d have to turn it around and haul it up to the landing area and then dump them into a truck. It was very hard on fish,” Kinne said.

The salmon cannon technology was first used as a way to transport fruit. Bryan said the hope is that it will one day transport fish up and over large dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

“We’ve actually had even early discussions with getting fish over dams like the Grand Coulee. We’re starting out much smaller than that, obviously,” Bryan said.

It’s also a way to keep hatchery fish out of the natural spawning grounds of wild fish, Kinne said.

The unit demonstrated Tuesday cost about $150,000, he said.

So does the salmon cannon hurt the salmon? Kinne said the state Department of Fish and Wildlife tested out the salmon cannon with steelhead before putting it into action. They compared fish transported with the cannon to fish transported by hand.

“We held them for six weeks to see if there was any difference in mortality, or difference in condition of fish, and no. Everything was really good,” Kinne said.

Every once in awhile, a small salmon will get stuck in the tube, which is designed to operate with fish 15 to 30 pounds. Crews can then send either a water-soaked sponge or a larger salmon to help move it up the tube.

Yakama Nation tribal fisheries are also testing out a salmon cannon in central Washington.

Story and audio by Courtney Flatt. Video by Aaron Kunz and Courtney Flatt.

Yakama Nation to Coal: And Stay Out.

“The Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated.” ~Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy.

Yakama Chairman JoDe Goudy asserts his rights under the Treaty of 1855 to fish traditionally on the Columbia River

Yakama Chairman JoDe Goudy asserts his rights under the Treaty of 1855 to fish traditionally on the Columbia River

By: Michael O’Leary

Governor Kitzhaber’s Department of State Lands has issued a landmark denial of Oregon’s only proposed coal export terminal, keeping millions of tons of coal right where it belongs – buried in the ground.

Back in May the Yakama Nation protested that the coal terminal proposed for their traditional treaty recognized fishing grounds up on the Columbia Rover, near modern day Boardman, was an attack on the water, the salmon, their way of life, and a contradiction to the idea of living in balance with our surroundings.

The Australian coal mining company in question, Ambre Energy, denied the tribal claims in comments to the media and in filings to state regulators.

Evidently the claims by the coal company about where tribal fishing rights do or don’t apply were not pursuasive.

In their findings released on August 18th the Department of State Lands had the final word on the matter:

“The agency record demonstrates that the project would unreasonably interfere with a small but important and and long-standing fishery in the State’s waters at the project site.”

In response to this news Yakama Chairman JoDe Goudy made the following statement:

“This is only the beginning of what I expect will be a long fight. Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated. We will continue to speak out and fight on behalf of our people, and for those things, which cannot speak for themselves, that have been entrusted to us for cultivation and preservation since time immemorial. Today, however, we thank and stand in solidarity with the State of Oregon, and celebrate its decision to protect the Columbia River from further damage and degradation.”

So what’s next?

The Columbia River could still be impacted by two remaining coal export terminals.

Up in Bellingham, Washington the proposed coal terminal will rumble 9 loaded coal trains down the Columbia River Gorge every day. Up there the fight against has also been taken on by local tribal leaders.

Lummi Nation Chairman, Timothy Ballew II, had this to say about today’s good news from Oregon:

“The State’s action makes a strong policy statement by recognizing Tribal Sovereignty and the Treaty Rights of the Columbia River tribes. Such decisions are few and far between. This is important not just for the Yakama and Umatilla but all Indian fishing tribes. Together we can, and will, protect our way of life.”

And we’ve still got a coal proposal on the Columbia River, just over in Longview, Washington, that will barrel 8 loaded and uncovered coal trains a day through Portland. That one may be the most likely threat left on the radar. Just this week the Longview coal terminal supporters just threw a summer picnic for 300 of their closest supporters – for a terminal that hasn’t even seen a draft EIS yet.

According to the spokesperson for the coal company, Millenium Terminals, “We wanted to find way to say thank you to folks in the community.”

I guess it must be all about who you include in your definition of community.

Tribal groups: Oregon coal terminal will hurt fish

Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Tribal groups say a coal terminal in the Columbia River Basin would interfere with treaty rights, harm fish and put the health of tribal members at risk.

About 50 Yakama Nation members protested Tuesday at site of the project at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. They say the terminal proposed by Ambre Energy would destroy tribal fishing areas.

The Oregon land board is to decide by May 31 whether to approve the project. In a letter to the board, the company says tribes are currently not fishing at its dock. But treaty rights guarantee a site for tribal use whether it is in use or not.

The company also says its dock would not “unreasonably interfere” with fishing.

Environmental groups and business leaders have also rallied against the project.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/05/20/3652857/tribal-groups-oregon-coal-terminal.html?sp=/99/101/369/#storylink=cpy

More forestry funding needed on Indian lands, tribal leader says

By Kate Prengama, Yakima Herald-Republic

Phil Rigdon, the director of  Yakama Natural Resources Program and president of the Intertribal Timber Council

Phil Rigdon, the director of Yakama Natural Resources Program and president of the Intertribal Timber Council

Federal funding cuts pose dire consequence for the ability of tribes to manage their land and reduce wildfire risks, a Yakama Nation leader told a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Phil Rigdon, the director of the Yakamas’ natural resources program and president of the Intertribal Timber Council, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that programs that once kept tribal forests healthy are now “running on fumes.”

“The consequences of chronic underfunding and understaffing are materializing,” Rigdon told the committee. “The situation is now reaching crisis proportions and it’s placing our forests in great peril.”

There are more than 18 million acres of tribal forest lands held in trust by the federal government, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs gets far less funding per acre for forest management and fire risk reduction than national forests.

Funding has fallen 24 percent since 2001, Rigdon said, and that can have dire consequences.

For example, last year when the Mile Marker 28 Fire broke out off U.S. Highway 97 on the Yakama reservation, only one heavy equipment operator and one tanker truck were able to respond immediately because that’s all the current federal budget supports, Rigdon said in an interview before the hearing.

“Back in the early 1990s, when I fought fire, we would have three or four heavy equipment operators,” he said. “Someone was always on duty. That’s the kind of thing that’s really changed.”

The Mile Marker 28 Fire eventually burned 20,000 acres of forest.

Rigdon noted that the dozens of tribes around the country that are represented by the Timber Council are proud of the work they do when resources are available.

“If you go to the Yakama reservation and see our forests, we’ve reduced disease and the risk of catastrophic fire. If we don’t continue to do that type of work — if we put it off to later — we’ll see the types of 100,000- or 200,000-acre fires you see other places,” Rigdon said.

Currently, there are 33 unfilled forestry positions at the BIA for the Yakama Nation, he added. That limits the program’s ability to hit harvest targets, which hurts the tribe economically and affects the health of the forest.

A 2013 report from the Indian Forest Management Assessment Team found that an additional $100 million in annual funding and 800 new employees are needed to maintain strong forestry programs on BIA land nationwide. The current budget is $154 million.

In addition to the concern over future funding, other members of the panel also discussed the different approaches to forest management by tribes and the Forest Service.

“We’ve done a good job maintaining a healthy forest on a shoestring budget, but the Forest Service is not maintaining its adjacent lands,” said Danny Breuninger Sr., the president of the Mescalero Apache Nation in New Mexico.

Committee member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cited a 2011 Arizona fire as an example of how tribal efforts can succeed. In the wake of a 2002 fire, the White Mountain Apache conducted salvage logging and thinning work while the adjacent national forest did not. When fire hit the region again, federal forests were devastated, but the treated tribal forests stopped the fire’s spread.

Jonathan Brooks, forest manager for the White Mountain Apache, told McCain that lawsuits prevent the Forest Service from doing similar work.

“Active management gets environmental activists angry,” Brooks said. “But what’s more hurtful to the resources: logging, thinning and prescribed fire, or devastating fires?”

Rigdon said the Intertribal Timber Council would like to see increased abilities for tribes to work with neighboring national forests on management projects like thinning, which could support tribe-owned sawmills and reduce fire risks.

The Yakama Nation is working with the Forest Service on developing such a collaborative project, as part of a new program known as “anchor forests.” It’s a pilot program currently being used on a few reservations, and the panelists at the hearing supported expanding it to more regions.

Anchor forests are intended to balance the economic and ecological needs of a forest through a collaborative effort involving tribes, the BIA and local, state and federal agencies.

Yakama Tribal Court to hear case over state’s elk management

 

May 7, 2014

By Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic
kprengaman@yakimaherald.com

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakama Nation Tribal Court ruled it has jurisdiction in an unprecedented lawsuit that maintains that the state has responsibility to manage an elk herd to prevent damage to a sacred burial site.

Chief Judge Ted Strong found in favor of the tribal member who brought the civil suit against the state Department of Fish and Wildlife when he ruled Friday that the Tribal Court has the authority to hear the case. He ordered the parties to discuss settlement options before continuing with hearings.

Attorneys for the state had asked the court to throw out the lawsuit, saying it lacked authority over Wildlife Department officials named in the suit because they are not tribal members and because the burial site is not on the reservation.

In the case of the burial sites, the judge found that the court’s jurisdiction should not be limited to the reservation.

The case was brought under a 1989 state law allowing tribal members to seek damages in civil court against those who have knowingly damaged Indian burial sites. The law allows cases to be brought in Superior or Tribal Court, but this is the first time a case has been heard in Tribal Court.

It’s a test case for the authority of the Tribal Court, said Jack Fiander, the attorney representing Shay-Ya-Boon-Il-Pilpsh, who brought the case. Fiander said he hopes this case can demonstrate the fair, professional process of the Tribal Court.

Typically, tribal courts only have jurisdiction over cases involving tribal members and tribal lands.

“The Yakama Tribal Member who seeks preservation of the ancient burial grounds has no less right to be heard by this court simply because the remains of his fellow Yakama lies buried in the grave some miles distant from the Yakama Reservation Boundary,” Judge Strong wrote in the order granting the jurisdiction.

The tribal court is “uniquely competent” to hear concerns about the desecration of burial sites, he wrote.

Plaintiff Shay-Ya-Boon-Il-Pilpsh, who is also known as Ricky Watlamet, is charged in Kittitas County Superior Court with felony unlawful hunting after allegedly shooting several of the elk on the Kittitas County property where the burial site is located.

He was invited by the nontribal landowner who was frustrated with the Wildlife Department’s response to her complaints about damage by the elk, which were also eating grasses intended for cattle.

But under state law, tribal members’ treaty hunting rights that allow them to hunt outside of the state-set seasons don’t apply on private land.

Fiander is also representing his client in the criminal case, but he said that he’s encouraged by the Tribal Court’s decision to hear this civil case.

“I think everybody’s pleased about the decision, but we see it as chapter three of about seven,” Fiander said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that in less than a month as the snow melts that the elk will start leaving the property and hopefully, a settlement can be reached for next year.”

In other areas with elk problems, Fiander said management strategies have included temporary fencing or issuing more hunting permits to keep the herd smaller.

A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office, which represents the Wildlife Department, said in an email that it is “reviewing the decision with our clients and considering our course of action.”

The next hearing is set for June 19, after the parties meet to discuss settlement options.

Once the Tribal Court has reached a conclusion in the case, the decision can be subject to a federal court review to ensure the process was fair, Fiander said.

But, he said he would not be surprised if the state’s attorneys planned to appeal.

“My sense is that ultimately it will end up in federal court,” Fiander said.