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Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flathead Reservation v. Vulles
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
437 F.2d 177 (1971)
In 1855, the Salish and Kootenai Tribes (the tribes) (plaintiffs) entered into a treaty with the United States under which they ceded large parts of their land to the US but reserved a portion for their exclusive use and occupancy, which became known as the Flathead Reservation. In 1904, a portion of the reservation was allotted to a tribe member, who passed the land by fee patent to a third party, who later transferred title in 1951 to a group of settlers known as the Vulleses (the settlers) (defendants). The land owned by the settlers separated one part of the reservation, known as Range Unit 5B, from the rest of the tribal lands. Since 1933, the tribes had used a truck trail across the settlers’ property to access Range Unit 5B. Witnesses’ testimony established that members of the tribes regularly used the trail for various activities, including cutting and gathering wood, picking berries, and hunting, often without seeking permission. The trail was maintained by the US government, which used the trail to manage Unit Range 5B. In 1964, the settlers padlocked a gate across the trail, blocking access to Range Unit 5B. The US government, acting as a trustee for the tribes, sued the settlers for blocking the right-of-way, and the tribes intervened in the case. The district court held that the US had established a right-of-way and had the right to use the trail to maintain Range Unit 5B. However, the court also held that the tribes had only a limited right-of-way. Under the ruling, the tribes had a right to use the trail to manage Range Unit 5B, including maintaining the trail, leasing grazing rights, moving cattle, and harvesting timber. However, the tribes were not permitted to use the trail to access Range Unit 5B to hunt or pick berries or for recreation. The tribes appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Hufstedler, J.)
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