State of Utah Attorney General Takes Racist Position against Ute Tribal Members

Ute Tribe LogoDUCHESNE, UTAH— The state of Utah Attorney General’s office is under fire by the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation after State’s Assistant Attorney General, Randy Hunter referred to tribal members as “these people” and seeking state jurisdiction on the reservation so Utah law enforcement can arrest “drunk tribal members fleeing to the reservation.”

On Monday, October 6, 2014, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, through the elected Tribal Business Committee, issued a letter to the Department of the Interior seeking federal intervention in the Ute Indian Tribe’s federal court suit titled Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah & Ouray Reservation, Utah v. State of Utah, Duchesne, County, Roosevelt City, Duchesne City, and Uintah County.

The case is in the United States District Court for the State of Utah, case numbers 75-cv-00408 and 13-cv-276, and certain issues in the matter are pending on appeal before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, case numbers 14-1028, 14-1031, and 14-1034 .

The Tribe had originally filed the case in 1975, asking the federal courts to determine the boundaries of the Tribe’s Reservations.  After a complex, and costly twenty-five year court battle (including two appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and two petitions asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the matter), the federal courts had resolved all of the major issues involved in the case, and after the parties then agreed to resolution of remaining minor issues, the case was dismissed in 2000.

The Tribe’s outreach to the Department of the Interior was prompted by the State of Utah’s attempts to curtail long-standing judicial precedent regarding sovereignty and tribal jurisdiction, which were recently presented to the Court by the State’s Assistant Attorney General, Randy Hunter, using language and rhetoric that can only be described as overtly racist and patently offensive.

On September 22, 2014, at a pretrial hearing before the District Court, Mr. Hunter brazenly referred in open court to Ute Indian Tribal members as “these people,” catching his own verbal blunder immediately thereafter and correcting himself on the record by saying “I shouldn’t say these people.”

However, his overt bias and the motivation behind his efforts to further encroach upon Tribal sovereignty had already been revealed in no uncertain terms.  Hunter proceeded to support the position of the State of Utah by pandering to racial stereotypes, explaining that state law enforcement was necessary on the Reservation to put a stop to drunk tribal members fleeing to the Reservation to avoid prosecution for drunk driving. 

This claim by the State was presented without a shred of evidence, and is not only wholly unfounded, but is further proof that the State’s intentions in the case are driven by prejudice rather than legal merit.

Days later Mr. Hunter made similarly offensive and unfounded statements, claiming in writing to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, asserting that the Tribe’s Reservation is “a lawless zone where there is no law enforcement against tribal drunken drivers”, Hackford v. Utah 10th Cir. case no. 14-4116, Doc. 01019319330 at 5, that this supposed tribal lawlessness and drunkenness shows that the Ute Indian Tribe is incapable of providing proper governance and law enforcement, and that therefore the federal courts should vacate the prior final decisions in the long-running litigation between the Tribe and the State and should give the State jurisdiction over the Reservation.

The Ute Indian Tribe has issued a letter to the Governor of Utah and Attorney General seeking his condemnation of Hunter’s actions.

The Ute Indian Tribe-The Ute Indian Tribe resides on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah. Three bands of Utes comprise the Ute Indian Tribe: the Whiteriver Band, the Uncompahgre Band and the Uintah Band. The Tribe has a membership of more than three thousand individuals, with over half living on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Ute Indian Tribe operates its own tribal government and oversees approximately 1.3 million acres of trust land which contains significant oil and gas deposits.  The Tribal Business Committee is the governing council of the Tribe.

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