Posted: Jun 21, 2013 9:35 PM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
POLSON - A Polson man who's fought for years with local officials over ownership of his property is filing a $10 million claim against the federal government in hopes of resolving the dispute.
But Bob Williams asserts his case is actually just the tip of the iceberg, and could grow into a broader action over the issue of reservation land ownership.
When Bob Williams bought a 2½ acre parcel east of Polson he thought he'd found his dream property.
He started by building a garage and studio and planned a house to take advantage of the view of Flathead Lake and the Mission Mountains, only to find himself squeezed between the often-confusing permit jurisdictions in Lake County.
"That's when the problems started. They wanted more money. They wanted more permits. And they informed me I built my accessory building too close to the property line. I had to tear it down or move it. And that really upset me."
That started a five year legal battle. "I was forced into bankruptcy. I was found guilty of civil litigation. It was just a kangaroo court more or less," said Williams.
Williams started digging, producing reams of documents which he says show problems in the history of this property being transferred out of tribal trust status.
He even claims some individuals and agencies have been "conspiring" to cheat people through the complicated weave of land ownership on reservations, here and elsewhere.
"And because we have different jurisdictions, one for the Indians and one for non-Indians, we just don't know where this is going to go. It's with the federal government. It's very unique in as much as the federal government is actually involved."
Now, Williams has filed a multi-million dollar claim for damages with the Department of the Interior.
He's shown up at public meetings trying to draw more attention to his case, and even staged a recent protest outside the Lake County Courthouse, flying the American flag upside down in the universal sign of distress,
"Yeah, I do want to move on. But I also want to help my neighbors. I mean the people that don't know they don't own their land that are subject to eviction. I mean this whole thing is morally wrong."
And even though the fight has hurt his health, this disabled Vietnam veteran remains determined.
"This goes a little bit further than just being compensated for the wrong they've done to me," said Williams.
Both Lake County and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal officials have acknowledged there are challenges to land ownership on the reservation and have raised the issue of trying to develop more uniform policies in the past.