Native Americans Right to Hunt Backed by US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the hunting rights of a Native American tribe survived U.S. expansion into the West.

In Herrera v. Wyoming, the the High Court voted 5-4 in saying the Crow tribe's rights did not expire when Wyoming became part of the United States in 1890. The controversy started when Clayvin Herrera, a Crow tribe member, and fellow Crow members were hunting on their reservation in Montana. They followed elk that had crossed into the forest of neighboring Wyoming. They shot three elk and took the meat back to the reservation.

Herrera was then convicted for hunting violations in the Bighorn National Forest. He claimed a right to hunt there pursuant to an 1868 treaty between the tribe and the federal government. Wyoming argued, however, that the right expired upon statehood.

In the 1868 treaty, the tribe had ceded over 30 million acres to the U.S. In exchange, the federal government, as part of that treaty, said the tribe "shall have the right to hunt on unoccupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon, and as long as peace subsists among the whites and the Indians on the borders of the hunting districts."

Ruling for Herrera, the Supreme Court noted that the Crow had inhabited the land for more than three centuries and under the treaty had the right to hunt in the Bighorn National Forest. The decision also marked the second time that Justice Neil Gorsuch has voted for tribal rights in close decisions.