Indian fee land free from state control
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A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected an "unprecedented" attempt by a Washington county to assert jurisdiction over land on the Tulalip Reservation.

In a unanimous opinion, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the state has no control over Indian property even if it is not held in trust. A three-judge panel concluded that there are no "exceptional circumstances" to warrant intrusion on Tulalip tribal rights.

"The policy of leaving Indians free from state jurisdiction is deeply rooted in our nation's history," wrote Circuit Judge Stephen S. Trott for the majority.

The court's action affirms a federal judge's ruling made in favor of Kim Dobin and her brother Guy Madison. The siblings own a construction company that has started housing developments on land they own in fee status.

Recently, Gobin and Madison proposed to build 25 homes on 25 acres of fee land. After a public notice and comment process, they received approval, subject to certain conditions, under Tulalip tribal land use regulations.

But Snohomish County officials opposed the project and claimed jurisdiction. County regulations would limit the number of homes to just 10.

County officials cited the non-trust status of the Gobin land and said Congress made the land "freely alienable and encumberable." They also claimed "exceptional circumstances" -- endangered species protection, maintaining infrastructure and ensuring health and safety -- they said granted them control.

The court yesterday rejected the county's position. "Congress did not expressly authorize county jurisdiction over those lands," the panel said in reference to the first argument.

The ruling also said the county's claimed exceptions "did not not outweigh tribal interests in self-determination and self-sufficiency." "Indeed, nothing could be more contrary to the well-established policy of leaving Indians free from state jurisdiction and control," the Trott wrote.

The Tulalip Tribes intervened in the case to protect its sovereignty. Known in Indian Country as an economic development pioneer, the tribes have implemented a comprehensive set of land use regulations.

Gobin and Madison have benefited from the business-friendly tribal economy. Recently though, the Tulalip board of directors has imposed a moratorium on projects like the housing development, citing increased growth -- Snohomish County has grown faster than any other in the state -- and the potential for homes to be out of the price reach for tribal members.

Gobin and Madison intend to offer homes not just to tribal members. The ruling clears the way for financing for the project.

Of the 22,000-acre Tulalip Reservation, about half is held in trust for the tribe. The other half is a mix of fee land owned by Indians and non-Indians.

Get the Case:
GOBIN v. SNOHOMISH COUNTY, No. 00-36031 (9th Cir. September 18, 2002)

Relevant Links:
Tulalip Tribes -

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