Supreme Court Resolves Wind River Reservation Boundary Case

The U.S. Supreme Court ended a decade-long dispute on Monday, June 25, 2018, regarding the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation by denying certiorari in the combined case of Northern Arapaho Tribe, et al. v. Wyoming, et al. and Eastern Shoshone Tribe, et al. v. Wyoming, et al. The case answers two questions: (i) were the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation (the “Reservation”) diminished in 1905 by an agreement between the Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone (the “Tribes”), and (ii) do the Tribes have sovereignty over the City of Riverton, Wyoming?1

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Bridger established the Reservation, originally for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.2 The Northern Arapaho Tribe joined the Reservation in 1878. The Reservation’s boundaries changed frequently throughout the first decades of its existence. In 1874, the southern boundary was changed when the Eastern Shoshone Tribe sold all of its land south of the forty-third parallel in the “Lander Purchase.”3 The Reservation’s boundaries changed again in 1897 with the “Thermopolis Purchase,” affecting the northern boundary. In 1904, the Tribes and the federal government entered into an agreement to open up largely unclaimed land north of the Wind River for sale to non-Indians under the Homestead Act.4 This agreement was enacted by Congress in 1905, but an unanswered question simmered under the surface for over one hundred years – did the 1905 agreement reduce the size of the Reservation?

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