The Supreme Court upheld the federal government's 19th-century treaty with the Montana-based Crow Tribe this week, in what community advocates and legal experts are heralding as a victory for Native American rights. The case reaffirms the Constitutional supremacy of treaty rights signed between the United States and Native nations, amid continued standoffs between tribal and state administrations over the historic agreements.
On Monday, the court ruled 5–4 to uphold an 1868 treaty between the United States and the Crow Tribe, now located in southern Montana, by which the tribe relinquished ancestral lands in what would become northern Wyoming but maintained rights to hunt and fish there. A lower court ruling had convicted Crow Tribe member Clayvin Herrera for off-season hunting on Wyoming public lands.
Wyoming had argued that the treaty that allowed Herrera access to the lands had specified that Crow Tribe members could hunt and fish in "unoccupied lands," and thus became invalidated when Wyoming achieved statehood in 1890. The state "argued that the treaty right was terminated when it entered the Union, claiming that all lands in Wyoming were legally 'occupied,'" explains director of the Michigan State University Indigenous Law & Policy Center Matthew Fletcher.