The Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council met on Friday, May 3 with the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners to welcome its new members and review the groups’ progress toward a global agreement regarding rights-of-way for county roads on tribal lands.
“It’s important that we continue this government-to-government relationship that we have with the county,” Newton said. “We need to walk hand-in-hand down some of these roads for the betterment of our people.”
For more than a decade, the county and tribe have been working toward a meeting of the minds on how to treat county roads that cross reservation lands. Meeting with the council in its chambers in Ignacio were Commissioner Bobby Lieb Jr. and newcomers Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff, a former tribal prosecutor for the Southern Ute Tribal Court.
In the past, such agreements were made on a road-by-road basis. In many cases — particularly among older roads, which could have been around for half a century or longer — documentation that grants the county a right-of-way is incomplete, insufficient or just plain missing, said Southern Ute Legal Department Director Monte Mills.
That’s led to questions about the status of some roads and, by extension, of whether the county should be maintaining them.
A global agreement would define the county’s rights-of-way for existing roads, superseding earlier agreements and bringing all covered roads under the same set of rules, Mills said.
Sam W. Maynes, an attorney with the tribe’s general counsel, Maynes, Bradford, Shipps & Sheftel, said the agreement is “on the verge” of completion. Both sides are hammering out details, and the agreement must then be authorized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which issues rights-of-way on trust lands on behalf of the tribe.
Lieb called a finalized agreement “honestly our highest priority … for this year.”
“I’d like to suggest when this thing gets done, we’ll all throw a party,” he said.
Tribal Attorney Lorelyn Hall said the agreement could be the first of its kind in Indian Country. Council Lady Pathimi Goodtracks said that would reflect well on the county.
“When we do these collaborations … La Plata County will be known as being a leader,” she said.”
Newton applauded the efforts on both sides.
“I want to thank everybody who worked on this,” he said. “This is another brick to our house. The foundation is built; it’s just putting up the walls and roof now.”