Denver — The "sagebrush rebellion" has turned into a three-way scrap. The third party to the controversy, which began when a number of Western states decided to seek control of federal land within their boundaries, is a number of Indian tribes.
Several tribes have come out in opposition to the states' challenge. They see the rebellion as a threat to their treaty rights.
Many tribes were guaranteed their right to hunt, fish, trap, graze their herds, and cut timber in public lands outside their reservations. Because of the long history of enmity between state government and Indians, the tribes fear that the states might abrogate these off-reservation rights should they win. This is despite a number of assurances by state officials to the contrary.
The threat to the Indians could extend beyond off-reservation rights as well. Lands included in reservations after the states were formed also would be in jeopardy.
Nevada, the leader of the sagebrush rebellion, has claimed in court that it was not admitted on an equal footing with other states as provided for in the US Constitution because the federal government retained 87 percent of its lands.
Should Nevada win this point in court, it could mean that the state would be entitled to all public lands within its borders set aside after statehood, including some Indian reservations.
The statement of one tribal representative summarized Indian feelings. "The federal government may be a devil," he said. "But it is a devil we know."