1965 – An Indian’s View on Fishing Rights

Editor, The Times: I am writing concerning Indian fishing rights. I would like to say this about our fishing disagreement with the State of Washington:

  1. The Mukilteo Treaty of 1855 gave us the right to fish in or on out accustomed fishing grounds.
  2. This treaty was made by the United States government and is a law of the land.

With these points in mind I can’t help but wonder at the way the State of Washington is handling the situation. The state had made thousands of laws to protect people on their property but these laws do not apply to a ward of the government.

Our federal government promised it would protect is as long as the sun rose in the East and set in the West. In return my people ceded to the United States government what is now the State of Washington.

This treaty was one my people did not write. It was dictated to them by men they believed were dealing honestly with them.

In their own ways, their knowledge and culture, my people were without equal. They managed to survive for thousands of years before the coming of the white man. They loved their way of living; they loved their land as the people who now proclaim to own it have learned to love the land of my people.

No one can realize the millions of dollars worth of natural resources that once belonged to our Indian people; yet today they are denied a meager living from fishing rights that were guaranteed by the United States government.

Before the coming of the white man our streams were filled with salmon that never were in danger of extinction. The Indian took only what he needed to survive and the creeks were always open to the spawning grounds and not blocked by logging operations.

The Indians did not pollute the waters; they did not fish as sportsmen, but only to survive. The catch of the modern-day sportsman exceeds the catch of the Indian. The white man knows no boundaries in his quest for salmon.

The Indian knows these things and is trying to protect one of the law rights that we, the native people of America, have left.

It is time that the United States government stood by promises made to my people in 1855.

1964 – Indian Treaties

Editor,
The Times: The Times of March 3 contained an editorial stating: "there is a question, however, as to what extent pre Civil War treaties (with the Indians) and the rights or wrongs of that long-ago era should be applicable today." We made treaties with the Indians, and the white man hasn’t kept any of them. It’s about time that we do. If these so-called treaties are so old that they are not effective any more, then perhaps we ought to scrap the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as they were written before any agreements with the Indians.

1964 – Indian Alone Isn’t to Blame for Fish Depletion

Editor,
The Times: MARLON BRANDO’S recent intervention in Indians affairs at least drew attention to one of the state’s fishery problems. Steelhead and the five species of salmon in the North Pacific may eventually reach the point of no return if past and present pressures on their individual runs continue. And it won’t be the Indian who hastened the end of one of nature’s richest resources. In Alaska all runs of all species have generally declined since heavy commercial exploitation began in the early 1920’s. Some runs have been eliminated by over-fishing, and most have been diminished to where there is nothing left beyond minimum escarpment needs. The days of the "silver horde" are gone, and the abandoned, boarded-up canneries are evidence of a past era. The state fisheries have also declined, not so much because of commercial over exploitation but because of the tremendous commutation for each and every fish that swims in state waters. The commercial trollers, gillnetters and seiners who have long made their livelihood by commercial fishing are faced with an ever-growing army of sports fishermen who may take a heavier toll of salmon than do the commercial fishermen. They not only take thousands and thousands of salmon each year, but they dip deeply into the stocks of immature king salmon, thus eliminating many of the spawning potential. Often one hears of a catch of a salmon trout (no such fish) or blackmouth. These are actually young, immature feeding king salmon which, if allowed to escape, could drop or fertilize as many as 3,000 or 4,000 eggs upon maturity. There are many more worsening fishery problems in Washington and Alaska, and in view of it all doesn’t it seem a little ridiculous to jail a few poor Indians for taking fish for food purposes? Certainly, if there aren’t enough steelhead for needy Indians there aren’t enough for the man with the fancy rod and expensive gear.

1962 – For a Special Indian Department of Fisheries

When the treaties with the Western Washington Indians were negotiated (mostly in 1855), the Indians had not been accustomed to selling their fish. But the government thought that fish sales afforded the Indians a good way to make a living. They gave the Indians access to their aboriginal hunting and fishing grounds, on and off the reservation. The Indians were encouraged to sell their fish by the government, not only to provide themselves with food, but also to introduce them to the monetary system. Soon, many Indians were dependent on their fishing industry, as many are today. For the most part, the Indians fished and hunted within the confines of their reservations. They did not give up their rights to their aboriginal grounds, but simply refrained from using them until the necessity arose. Apparently, for some, the necessity to utilize those rights has arisen. Conservation has been practiced by most tribes. It is in respect to conservation and control of Indian fishing that the proposal has been make for an Indian department of fisheries for Western Washington. Sports fishermen would be in addition to the present Department of Fisheries, of course. The difference between the Indians’ concern for the problem and the sports fishermen’s is the difference between livelihood and pleasure. The Indians want both to continue…

1961 – Squabbling Won’t Rebuild Washington Fish

In recent weeks there have been articles relating to commercial fishing for steelhead in the mouth of the Skagit River, and much discussion concerning unrestricted fishing by the Indians. We as a group would like to voice our opinion on this matter of unrestricted fishing for any fish, steelhead or salmon. The debate is not one of who has the sole right to the fish, but rather how can we preserve and rehabilitate our fishery. In the early days when the Indian treaties were drawn up, they were not concerned with the future. When the treaties were signed, the Indians were fishing from canoes with spears, dip nets and related homemade nets. They caught fish for their food. Their methods of taking fish were not very efficient and were not endangering the fishery. Today we are faced with a serious problem, and anyone who will not face it is not using sound judgment. We are using outdated 19th Century laws to govern 20th Century technological advancements. Today’s fishermen are using highly developed nylon netting, fast powered boats and fish traps. In effect we are using scientific methods for catching the fish and using outdated laws to govern these new advancements. Why do we employ scientists to study our fishery problems when we can’t use their recommendations to help rebuild the depleted fish runs?

The Indians and the whites must reach an agreement if we are going to have any sport or commercial fishery in the future. We must use all the scientific information we can get and use it wisely. We must have strict regulations which will apply to everyone who fishes, hook and line or net fisherman. Cooperation is of the utmost importance, and now, before it is too late. What good is it to limit white fishermen to two or three days a week and give unlimited fishing time to the Indians? Can the fish be brought back with this method? To rehabilitate our fisheries, we must use scientific data with strict fishing laws for everyone who fishes. We have only to look north a few miles to see the fruits of science and strict fishing regulations. The Frazier River fishery was doomed some 15 years ago, but through the combined efforts of the International Salmon Commission and the cooperation of the fishermen, whites and Indians, the river is now producing more fish than ever before. There is still hope. Let’s all pull together instead of in opposite directions.

Where are Fish? Don’t Pick on Indians, says Tulalip Official

Dear Sir:
I cannot let the articles in your esteemed paper – written by Enos Bradner of your staff – go by without making a feeble effort to answer some of his statements. His subject: "Indians’ Fishing Rights Rated Factor in Steelhead Decline" and bless his heart for fomenting ill feeling against us Indians, for heaven knows, many white people despise us because we are Indians. And we note with interest, his careful tiptoeing around Big Business, and his slanting of all the blame unto us Indians. With reference to the first article (March 19), the figures on salmon caught by Indians are meticulously presented. No mention is made of the catch of the Superior White Man – both offshore and on the high seas. Then these works "for many years there has been constant conflict between the Indians and the State Game and Fisheries Departments" . . . "that the Indians do not operate under state conservation regulations – and that they sell their steelhead."

THE Tulalip Indians (I belong to this group) have tried to go along on conservation. And for the record, my tribe, the Snohomish, owned this area, approximately what is now Snohomish County and the southern half of Whidbey Island (over 1,500,000 acres). My forefathers used to fish the Snohomish and Skykomish rivers, as well as other smaller rivers. They used to fish all around the southern half of Whidbey from Coupville and Keystone, on Admiralty Inlet, to Edmonds, and to near Stanwood, as well as the areas on our reservation that the Tulalips fish today. We have tried to stay within the boundaries of our reservation. But I am here and now serving notice that as long as we are being accused of ruining the salmon runs – which is a pure and outright fabrication of some people who have to find a whipping boy – I am here and now serving notice, that if I can get my fishing boat to operate, my boat is going all around Whidbey Island to fish, in our "old and accustomed fishing grounds." Also for the record: We never signed a treaty with any person, country, state or power to sell Puget Sound! Our treaty specifically states: "Article 1. the said tribe and bands of Indians hereby cede, relinquish, and convey to the United States all their right, title, and interest in and to the lands and country occupied by them."
No mention is made of "Whulge," or Puget Sound!

IF and when the power-that-be, in tolerance and good faith, recognize that the Indian is only one (and definitely, the "least of there") of five "factors," contributing to the depletion of the salmon runs, and attack the other four factors with the same vigor they attack Indian, then we, the Indians, will strive to follow implicitly the conservation plans of this state. The other element mentioned: "that the Indians sell their steelhead." The white man’s picture of the Indian has been that he lives in everlasting glory, living off a rich land, with money being poured upon him from a benevolent government. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Many Indians are homeless, many are landless, and many are half hungry all the time. I invite you to visit, with me, some Indian homes. You would be appalled at the poverty. On the article of March 22, "Steelheading Main Business of Lummis" . . . "about 600 Indians live on the reservation" . . . "The catch of steelhead by the Lummis for the past ten years has averaged 1,446 annually." Believe it or not, this averages about 2.5 steelhead for each Indian, while the superior white man is allowed 24 steelhead per year! Then these words: "State Fisheries Department figures for 1959 – the latest available – cite 16,275 steelhead caught by Indians with nets in ten rivers on reservations. The State Game Department reported the sports catch – all by hook and line from the same rivers was 19,855 steelhead. Is 16,000 more than 19,000?

THEN This Gem – "The total 1959 sports catch, from 86 rivers, was 126,530." (Is this a misprint?) "In the three Olympic Peninsula rivers, the Quillayute, Queets, and Quinault, which are subjected to the most intensive Indian fishing, the Indian take of steelhead was 6,066 – while the sports catch was 1,788." (Oh, you poor, dear, cheated white sportsmen!) Do you know why the white sportsmen caught so few steelhead in these rivers? Because these rivers Quilayute, Queets and Quinault – are far from the center (Seattle – Spokane of white density of population. Give the whites time. They’ll be swarming over that area in no time!

Just remember that number – 126,530 steelhead caught by whites in 1959 in Washington state. On the article of March 23, "Five Factors Contribute to Decline of Steelhead Runs": "Migratory fish of Washington are a declining resource . . . Salmon runs are virtually at an all-time low." In this same paragraph Mr. Bradner casually lists four factors contributing to the decline of migratory fish. But in a separate paragraph, and given great length, the fifth factor – "unrestricted fishing by Indians."

These are the five factors, as listed by Mr. Bradner:

  1. "The deforestation of watersheds thru extensive logging operations which harms the spawning beds."
    Read those words again!
  2. "Pollution. . .the increase of pollution in the state’s rivers."
    Mr. Bradner could have included the entire Puget Sound in the polluted area.
  3. "Construction of High Dams" . . . "Third is the harm resulting of high dams – such as Grand Coulee, which block the runs of spawning fish."
    We Indians have always maintained that these huge dams were doing more damage to the salmon runs than ever could be counted or realized.
  4. "Fourth is the catching of too many dish on the high seas and off-shore by commercial trollers and netters."
    No mention is ever made about how many salmon are caught by these "trollers and netters." Many fortunes have been made by white people on certain types of fishing. No mention is made, either, of the countless Japanese and Russian trawlers with their huge canneries traveling right with them, which follow our shores.
  5. "Unrestricted Fishing by Indians."
    I would like to remind one and all that we, the Indians, have lived here for thousands of years, and at no time in our history has the salmon run ever been in danger of extinction-until now!

1961 – Five Factors Contribute to Decline in Steelhead Runs

The anadromous – or migratory-fish of Washington – are a declining resource. Salmon runs, particularly of Chinooks and silvers, are virtually at an all-time low. Steelhead runs are being maintained only through a successful but expensive hatchery program. Five main factors contribute to the decline of migratory fish. One is the deforestation of watersheds through extensive logging operation, which harms the spawning beds. Another is the increase of pollution in the state’s rivers. Third is the harm resulting from construction of high dams, such as Grand Coulee, which block the runs of spawning fish. Fourth is catching too many fish on the high seas and offshore by commercial trollers and netters.

UNRESTRICTED FISHING by Indians is another contributor to declining runs. The Indians take fish at their source, close to the spawning areas. The modern Indian is inclined to fish by the standard he set back in 1855. At that time God and nature supplied the fish. That is no longer true. Along with the other factors contributing to the decline of fish runs, too large a take by Indians of the spawning stock could spell disaster. State fish and game agencies are attempting squarely to meet the problem of maintaining fish runs – through research, conservation regulations and state-financed hatcheries. Emergency closures have been imposed on both sports and commercial anglers. The United States government is the only political entity, outside of the tribes themselves, that has jurisdiction over the Indians on reservations. The federal government or Congress has done nothing to control Indian fishing on Washington reservations.

THERE ARE two ways by which Congress could control Indian fishing on reservations. One would be to abrogate the Indian treaties. That appears to be a very remote possibility. Second would be to draft appropriate conservation regulations for the Indians, then make sure that the regulations were enforced by the tribes.

Senate Bill 119, passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Rosellini March 9, is an attempt to stop the commercial sale of steelhead caught by anyone in Washington rivers. The bill makes it unlawful for any person to sell, or offer for sale, any game animal or game fish. It also prohibits common or contract carriers from receiving game fish or animals for shipment and from transporting them.

Proponents of the bill contend it will put the sale of steelhead under provisions of the Black Bass Act, enacted by Congress in 1926.

THAT ACT makes it unlawful to transport from one state to another black bass or other fish, if such transportation is contrary to the law of the state from which the fish are to be transported. If the Senate Bill 119 holds up in court, it will prohibit the sale of steelhead by Indians. It would not ban restricted fishing by Indians, on or off reservations. Perhaps the federal government can convince the Indian tribes that, whether they fish for food or for profit, they should abide by conservation regulations applicable to all other fishermen.

1966 – No Wish to Curtail Indians

Much has been written recently about our Indian fishing problem and at times our position and our actions have been misunderstood. We have not stopped the Indians from fishing, nor do we want to. They not only have the rights of the non-Indian to fish anywhere and at any time other citizens do and without a license, but also the right to fish on their reservations as they see fit. It should be noted that Congress granted full citizenship to all Indians in 1924. The Indian fishing issue hinges on the interpretation of a 100-year-old treaty which guarantees the Indians the right to fish in their "usual and accustomed grounds in common with other citizens." The State of Washington believes this guarantees the Indian the right to fish unhindered on reservations, but that off the reservation he has only the same rights as the non-Indian to hunt and fish, and no more. The Indians claim it gives them a superior right and that they are not bound by state law.

WE DON’T believe this claim is either logical or legal. The Department of Fisheries has the responsibility of maintaining our stocks of salmon and to do so, mush have control of all fisheries involved. A restricted net fishery in the rivers will undo all other efforts to protect the spawning escarpment. If continued, unregulated Indian fisheries could expand at the expense of other regulated fisheries and destroy many runs of salmon. At the same time the total harvest would diminish from poor escarpment to the spawning grounds, inevitably resulting in few, if any, salmon for all fishermen, including Indians. The extent of the Indians’ fishing rights must be determined and defined. Once this is won, the state agencies involved will manage accordingly.

OFTEN overlooked is the fact that we have never attempted to control Indian fishing on their reservations nor has their discrimination against them in legal commercial or sport fisheries. Indians caught and sold 240,312 salmon in 1964, 815,290 in 1963 with no fanfare and no controversy. This figure does not include the salmon caught by Indians fishing in our regular commercial fisheries. What has come to be called "the Indian fishing problem" has a simple cause. Some Indians have fished in off-reservation waters, which happen to be salmon and steelhead streams, where they catch salmon and steelhead with little thought for conservation or future yield. This unrestricted fishing can completely wipe out runs of fish. We say they should not be allowed to do this; that they must observe conservation rules to perpetuate the runs as do other fishermen. We have been upheld in our views by Superior Court restrains, which a few Indians have continued to ignore. This controversy has a long legal history. It is significant to note that prior to the State Supreme Court decision (State of Washington vs. Joe McCoy) in 1963, in which the right of the state to apply reasonable regulations to Indian off-reservation fishing was affirmed, no state court had held solidly in favor of the state. Indian plaintiffs or defendants have been given every benefit of the doubt. Problems posed by unregulated off-reservation fishing include the following:

  1. DOES A RESERVATION OR accustomed fishing grounds exist?
  2. DOES A TRIBE EXIST which is a beneficiary of a treaty?
  3. IS THE PLAINTIFF or defendant an Indian? (few tribes have membership rolls).
  4. DOES THE TREATY apply to the defendant or plaintiff?
  5. CAN REGULATION, even if it means total restriction, be substantiated as conservation or preservation of the resource?
  6. WHAT IS CONSERVATION as management today as comported to the needs of the resource in 1855?
  7. WHAT IS MEANT by fishing in common with other citizens?
  8. DOES THE INDIAN citizen have superior rights to the other citizens off the reservation?

The three Indian fisheries that have been under contention recently include the Green, the Puyallup and Nisqually Rivers. The latter two have been the scene of fish-ins and resulting publicity for arrest or non arrests.

THE BACKGROUND of the present court strainers that ban unrestricted fishing by Indians in these areas should help clarify the issues involved. On the Green River the state successfully instituted civil action in 1964 and gained a restraining order against the Muckleshoot Indians who were fishing contrary to state law. The trial court ruled that the state successfully sustained the burden of necessity of conservation and regulation by proving that the Soos Creek (Green River stock of chinook) salmon are unique and have special characteristics that make them desirable for brood stock and conservation programs; that the run of chinook salmon in the Green River and Soos Creek was the result of development work by the state and no Chinook run existed there at the time of the treaties; and that the continuance of any salmon run is dependent upon sufficient brood stock escaping to spawn and significantly, that once a salmon run is destroyed, it is generally impossible to reestablish it. The court ruled that the present Muckleshoot Tribe, composed of remnants of various groups and bands, were not a party to the Treaty of Point Elliott and have no enrollment to show affiliation of treaty Indians as required by the Secretary of Interior.

THE DEFENDANTS and all alleged members of the Muckleshoot Tribe were permanently enjoined from fishing in the Green River contrary to the laws of the state. Notice of appeal to the State Supreme Court by the Muckleshoot Tribe was given. The next fishery concerned was the Puyallup and the state asked for a temporary restraining order because over a 12-year span, the Indian fishery in Commencement Bay, Tacoma, and the Puyallup River, had placed chinook silver, pink and chum salmon and steelhead runs in jeopardy. The court ruled that there was no Puyallup Tribe which succeeds in interest the rights of the signers of the Treaty of Medicine Creek, that there is no present existing reservation on the Puyallup Tribe and that the regulations sought to be enforced were reasonably necessary for the conservation of fish. The Puyallup were permanently enjoined from fishing in the disputed areas. They gave notice of appeal to the State Supreme Court.

A COMPANION case, or the third river fishery – the Nisqually – after a court hearing, had the same result. The court thought the state had the right to enforce regulation necessary for conservation and permanently enjoined the Indians from fishing off the reservation contrary to state law. This case has also been appealed to the State Supreme Court. The future seems to hold more such cases and we hope that one of the cases will go to the United States Supreme Court for final decision so both the Indians and the State will clearly understand their respective rights and responsibilities.

IN THE MEANTIME a great many Indians will continue to fish legally either on the reservations or with other citizens in the many sport and commercial fisheries open to them with no license required.

THE UNREGULATED Indian fishing is one of the problems now facing us that must be solved so we can get along with our 10-year plan to do the things we can and must do to assure the continuation of our fisheries resources and their wise use by all citizens of the state.

Thor Tollefson Director – Washington State Department of Fisheries

1961 – Hits Fishing Treaties

When is someone going to introduce a note of sanity in this Indian fishing rights controversy? To speak of treaties is nonsense. The Indians act as if they were a separate nation and could not avail themselves of all the rights and privileges (and responsibilities?) of U.S. citizens. At any rate, nations do not commonly hold treaties valid with non-existent nations. The claim to "inherited rights" is no more valid than if I tried to seek redress of grievances against my Scandinavian grandfathers. Or should I lay claim to part of Scandinavia because my ancestors once owned it, but were perhaps moved out by war, government action, etc.? At any rate, I am not responsible for either the virtues or the faults of my predecessors. I have enough to do worrying about my own. Quite aside from the question of rights, what about conservation? The salmon are nearly gone already. Do the Indians want to be the ones to catch the last ones there are? Are they trying to get even with Buffalo Bill?

Our Indians


Editor, The Daily Olympian: The once noble Redmen are certainly having their prestige destroyed by a hand-full of Western Washington Indians. They are defying superior court rulings. They are resorting to foul epitaphs and bloody clubs, instead of letting the courts of our great land be the arbitrators. My deepest respects go with the men of the Washington State Game and Fisheries Departments who at great personal risks are doing their best to uphold the law of the state and to preserve the great heritage that is ours to enjoy: Our Natural Resources. It would be a sad thing indeed if we let selfish men destroy out fish and game. It is time for all Americans to realize that the fish and wildlife to be found abundantly in our land are in constant danger of being memories, thanks to man’s encroachments. The Indians have the Stevens Treaty that allows them to fish in their usual and accustomed places. I wonder if the makers of that treaty planned on wholesale Fish Packers and gill nets or did they plan on the Indian being able to fish in his usual places so that his family would have fish to eat?