The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Brittany Allen
Reporter 

Court dismisses county case on Tract D

 

contributed

STILL UP IN THE AIR: What actually happens in Tract D if Yakama Tribal Police try to make an arrest there? The matter may be not be resolved unless such an event occurs.

According to Klickitat County Commissioner Dave Sauter, there has been a dispute over the exterior boundary of the Yakama Indian Reservation since the late 19th century, following the Treaty of 1855.

This dispute has been ongoing and reignited several times over the years, though there has yet to an actual court ruling to establish full jurisdiction over the land in question. In 1855, there is said to have been a map outlining the boundaries of the reservation, but that map was lost and between the time of the treaty and the time the map was later found archived in Washington D.C. the land was surveyed numerous times, creating discrepancies between the textual agreement and the map itself.

A major point of contention for Klickitat County-and Sauter, as commissioner of district 2-is the fact that the disputed land commonly referred to as Tract D contains the entirety of the town of Glenwood, which has for a long time been considered within the boundaries of Klickitat County and therefore under said county's jurisdiction.

This creates ambiguity when it comes to the lives of the residents of the area.

"That's a lot of uncertainty for the folks that live up in Glenwood to kind of live under that shadow of 'well, am I in Klickitat County or am I on the reservation,'" Sauter said. "My constituents are pretty adamant about they don't want to be on it and don't feel like they're on the reservation. And, for the last 150 years they have not been considered on the reservation."

On April 18, Klickitat County-with the help of Prosecuting Attorney David R. Quesnel and the support of the Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Bob Songer-filed a lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior, Sally Jewell, Lawrence Roberts, Stanley M Speaks and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This action was made in response to the federal government's allowance of retrocession to the Yakama Nation in April of last year; this petition of retrocession granted them further jurisdiction over criminal matters on "Tract D."

The recent lawsuit was dismissed by the federal government on Sept. 1.

In a press release issued last Tuesday, Quesnel said: "Klickitat County is disappointed that the lawsuit has been dismissed, especially given that Judge Suko recognized the underlying dispute regarding the legal status of over 99,000 acres of land in Klickitat County remains open and will 'have to be resolved if and when federal jurisdiction is in fact sought to be exercised within Tract D.'"

Before the tribe's petition to the government last year, actions taken to make headway on this issue seemed to occur at 5 to 10-year intervals. According to Sauter, the last incident of dispute took place about five years ago when the nation informed Klickitat County of a desire to put up signs around what they believe to be the exterior boundary of their reservation-also known as Glenwood-which would signal people's entrance into the Yakama Reservation. The County declined this request.

Though neither party has yet to find a resolution to this problem, it is likely that the ownership of the privately owned land within "Tract D" would not be affected, though some land use authority may see change. The biggest difference would pertain to how and by whom the residents of the area would be prosecuted upon violation of the law.

For now though, Sheriff Bob Songer says everything in Glenwood is "business as usual" for the Sheriff's Office.

"My perception as the elected Sheriff of the County is that Tract D is not part of the reservation," Songer said. "And so, given that perception, for violators of the law-say, for example, in the town of Glenwood-it's going to be business as usual. It doesn't matter the nationality, whether it's Native American or Caucasian or whatever the case might be: if they're violating the law they will be subject to enforcement by the Sheriff's Office."

"Business as usual" seems to be the perception of many on both sides of the dispute at the moment. Though the tribe has been granted the jurisdiction they sought, they are not making many moves to act on said allowance. Such an incident, according to Quesnel, is what they are waiting for and what would provoke urgency in a decision by the government on the location of the disputed boundaries.

Quesnel, in the aforementioned press release, cited the County's reasoning for filing the lawsuit as attempts "to prevent the possibility of a confrontation between local, federal and tribal law enforcement, possibly late at night in a rural area, regarding who has jurisdiction and legal authority to arrest and detain."

He then went on to say that "the Board of Commissioners, Sheriff Bob Songer and myself [David Quesnel] remain steadfast in our commitment to protect and serve the citizens of Glenwood and surrounding areas commonly referred to as Tract D."

 

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