Treaty Rights

The Daily Olympian: That letter of the assistant commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs was interesting. I honestly tried to imagine the chiefs of the Indian tribes hereabout in 1854 stepping up to the treaty table to sign an agreement granting “the Indians the right to take fish. . . in common with all the citizens.” There just had to be more to the treaty than that, because I cannot imagine anyone in that day disputing the rights of the Indians to take fish in common. A great point is made by the Washington boss of the court’s decisions supposedly in point on the conservation issue. However, no court in the world can restore to the Indian the bountiful and life-sustaining supply of fish that is long since deplete by sports and commercial fishing activity. Just why the Indians of today are obliged to cooperate to conserve a supply of fish that was always more than enough is something that escapes me. Further, can anybody produce an Indian who ever took so many fish that they spoiled before he could eat them? What other law of conservation is just in a case like this? Conservation is nothing new in history. It was enforced by the nobility of Europe so they, too, could enjoy hunting and fishing. Cruel and unusual punishments were legally imposed upon those hungry serfs, who were forced to consume these creatures of God. We also inflict unusual punishments in the same way. Five Indians were in Pierce County jail on March 5, on a charge of contempt of court growing out of a legal order prohibiting their fishing. Whether for contempt of court or for forbidden fishing you or I would only get a fine and a Marlon Brando would go scot free. (What a false position that actor got into!) In court the Indians tried to plead their treaty rights, but the issue was never joined. The judge merely shook a legal finger informing the Indians they would be breaking the law if they fished. After 300 years of living with the Red man the judge should have known, not even the most untutored savage would be taken in by his line of reasoning.

* * * State courts do not have jurisdiction where there is an issue raised under a treaty signed by the Federal government of the United States. The Indians are entitled to their day in court, regardless of the precedents that may or may not be in their favor. Notwithstanding all of the above I would advise my Indian neighbors that many are guilty of a very great crime in these modern times of ours. They are guilty of the crime of being poor.


The Daily Olympian: A funny thing, Justice! A Hollywood publicity hound can come up here, net steelhead, strictly illegal, fish without a license, get plenty publicity and then is turned loose. While a few Indians who claim to have rights under the old treaty allowing them to fish in order to buy clothing and food, with the possibility of a little Pia Chuck to drive away the chill, are jailed. The right and wrong of the Indian fishing question is not for me to say, but for anyone not Indian to net steelhead is definitely illegal and the one doing so should be punished. And in his case a small fine would have been no punishment. Just some more publicity, the punishment should have been a stiff jail term. I’m sure that is what would happen if I were caught netting or gaffing one fish for my own use.