A welcome sign on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Parker, Arizona. Photo: moominsean
Law

Non-Indian tenant loses bid to stay on Colorado River Reservation





A non-Indian leaseholder has lost an appeal in a long-running dispute over the boundaries of the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

In 1949, the late William Tuttle purchased 92 acres only to find out that the land actually belonged to the Colorado River Indian Tribes. After decades of talks, he signed a lease in 1977 that allowed him to stay on the property for another 50 years.

But Tuttle and other non-Indians slowly became upset with the way they were treated by the tribe and by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many stopped making payments on their leases, prompting terminations and eviction proceedings.

That's what happened to Tuttle in 2010, when the BIA terminated his lease after he defaulted on it. But he remained defiant, despite his old age, and refused to leave the property.

"If they're allowed to make their own law, what value do any of us got?" Tuttle told Deutsche Welle, a German publication, in 2013. He was 91 years old at the time.

Tuttle challenged the termination of his lease in federal court but he passed away before a ruling was reached against him. His widow, Carol, took the case to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals but lost again.

In an unpublished decision that was issued on Tuesday without the need for oral argument, the court said the "BIA adhered to all relevant regulations and provisions of the lease when it terminated the contract."

"Where the tenant fails to cure, the BIA is required to consult with the Indian landowner – in this case, the tribe – to decide whether to cancel the lease or pursue other remedies," the ruling continued.

"The BIA complied with all of these procedures," the court stated in the per curiam order.

President Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order on March 3, 1865 that set aside a homeland for the Mohave people along the Colorado River in Arizona and California. Subsequent actions brought the Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo peoples to the reservation, resulting in a unique community seen today.

But the shifting course of the Colorado River led to disputes with non-Indians over the boundaries of the reservation. The tribe and the federal government have consistently prevailed in litigation although some holdouts continue to believe the matter hasn't been settled.

At one point, they convinced the attorney general of California to submit a brief in one case which argued that the reservation does not include lands on the California side of the river. The lawsuit was resolved without deciding that issue.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Tuttle v. Zinke.

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Colorado River Indian Tribes historian Michael Tsosie passes on (01/20)
Non-Indian tenant plans to fight Colorado River Indian Tribes (02/19)
Judge backs Colorado River Indian Tribes in jurisdiction case (02/17)
Non-Indians refuse to pay rent to Colorado River Indian Tribes (01/15)
Colorado River Indian Tribes don't plan to remove 'illegal aliens' (01/12)
Petition asks CRIT to remove non-Indians from disputed territory (01/07)
California supports non-Indian man in reservation boundary case (12/16)