tribal drumbeats of a welcome song rumble through Wa He Lut Indian
School on the bank of the Nisqually River. Children - more than
150 strong, representing 23 Indian tribes - pour out of their classrooms.
form an arc around a small stage and sit cross-legged. They recite
a pledge: "I'm very special. I'm unique. I count."
long, the self-esteem rally turns into a living history lesson.
Vice Principal Brenda Lovin walks onstage, her voice filling the
space left by the now-silent cowhide drums.
years ago, something happened," she says. "It really changed
the lives of Indian people in this area."
might be the simplest way to tell schoolchildren about an improbable
ruling in a white man's courtroom - a landmark decision that empowered
their parents and brightened their futures. Washington Indian tribes
not only won a share of the state's natural resources, they also
leveraged it to gain respect, win land and monetary settlements
and build membership rolls.
this isn't the right audience for that kind of lesson. Instead,
Lovin introduces the guest of the day: a 72-year-old Nisqually tribal
elder, fisherman and Indian rights activist.
children applaud. They might not know Billy Frank Jr. personally,
but they live in the shadow of his legend every day.
their heads hangs a wooden canoe, which a 20-something-year-old
Frank once paddled in the darkness while evading state game wardens.
On the walls are murals depicting the lives of the Nisqually Indians
fishing for salmon. The school itself stands on Frank's Landing,
once the front line of the Northwest fish wars.
wasn't much older than these children when he began fishing and
just be who you are and be proud of yourself," the longtime
chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission tells the
He Lut Indian School wouldn't be here if not for Frank and others
from his generation. A historic court case eventually gave them
the clout to bring $5 million in federal money to the school.
years ago, on Feb. 12, 1974, U.S. District Judge George Boldt stunned
the state in a decision from his Tacoma courtroom, reaffirming 13
Western Washington Indian tribes' treaty rights to half the fish
in Washington. Five years later, the ruling was upheld by the U.S.
so-called Boldt decision, the most infamous and influential of the
judge's 26-year career, turned the tide for native peoples who had
dwindled near extinction. South Sound Indians have since returned
to courthouses to affirm their sovereignty. Another U.S. Supreme
Court case in 1987 led to the emergence of tribal casinos.
just two years ago, tribes sued to force the state to fix culverts
that block fish passage under state highways. A ruling in their
favor in the so-called "second phase of the Boldt decision"
could grant tribes authority to regulate growth in their watersheds.
Fixing all the culverts, in turn, would mean hundreds of millions
of dollars in expense for the state.
"fish wars" that preceded the Boldt decision were the
equivalent of a civil rights movement for South Puget Sound Indians.
As Rosa Parks didn't give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala.,
Billy Frank and others didn't get off their boats in South Sound
rivers despite repeated arrests.
hung onto it," Frank said. "It's the most important thing."
wars and a courtroom battle
the 1950s, small groups of Indian fishermen were netting fish off
their reservations on the Nisqually and Puyallup rivers. The state,
which held that the Indians were breaking laws, threw them into
jail and confiscated their nets, canoes and livelihood.
6-year-old Nisqually Tribe member at the time, Alison Gottfriedson
was scared of bright searchlights outside the windows. There were
state game wardens on the other side of the river, looking for fishermen
like her father.
never knew if he drowned or got arrested," Gottfriedson recently
the Puyallup River, teenage fisherman Franky John went out on the
water to net fish. Tribe members needed food, and many adult fishermen
were in jail. If game wardens showed mercy to anyone fishing off
the reservation, it was the young people, John said.
years later, it came down to an armed confrontation involving John
and dozens of others. Puyallup Tribe members set up an encampment
on the riverbank in 1970 to protect their fishermen with force.
Tear-gassing, kicking and clubbing the activists, a force of game
wardens and helmeted Tacoma police broke up the camp near the Puyallup
Avenue-Pacific Highway bridge, arresting about 60 people. The camp
was bulldozed within a few days.
was enough, according to federal lawyers who filed suit that year
on behalf of the tribes. The federal government wanted to clarify
what rights the Indians had secured when they signed treaties in
the end of a three-year trial, few observers expected Boldt - a
conservative sport fisherman with no background in Indian law -
to rule so overwhelmingly in favor of the tribes. Even the Indians
weren't sure, though there were signs throughout United States v.
Washington that Boldt was sympathetic to their cause.
was the time Lena Hillaire of the Suquamish Tribe was called to
the stand as an expert witness. She couldn't speak English.
the questioning began, Hillaire looked at Willie Frank Sr., Billy
Frank's father, and asked for translation. They started speaking
in a native language.
state objected. Boldt overruled.
there was a judge who listened to us," Billy Frank recalled.
of the fishing industry demonstrated outside the courthouse during
the trial, and after it ended protesters burned Boldt in effigy.
One sign read: "A dead Boldt is a good Boldt."
tribes came out of the trial triumphant, but memories still cut
deeply for some.
all have a different way of feeling," said Maiselle Bridges,
Gottfriedson's mother. "I know what the Boldt decision has
done to all the tribes across the nation. But we paid a high price
died 10 years after issuing his most-famous ruling, but his legacy
just can't overstate the impact of the (Boldt) decision," said
Robert Anderson, director of the Native American Law Center at the
University of Washington in Seattle.
affirmation of Indian treaty rights bore broader implications than
just netting of fish. It also expanded Indians' access to hunting
and shellfish grounds. Tribes now have a say in affairs outside
their reservations, such as the federal Clean Water Act, Endangered
Species Act, hydropower projects and drinking water rights.
are big-time players," Anderson said. "Tribes' rights
are taken into context in hundreds of different ways."
could be even bigger players depending on the outcome of the "second
phase of the Boldt decision," also known as the culvert case.
tribes claim the state is violating their rights to half the state's
fisheries by mismanaging the environment to the point where there's
not enough fish for them to catch. They point to 177 culverts under
state highways blocking 250 miles of salmon spawning and rearing
filed the lawsuit in January 2001 based on the state's own 1997
study, which estimated it would take 20 to 100 years to fix the
culverts. According to one estimate, the state fixed 53 fish barriers
between 1991 and 2002 and spent $11 million doing so.
phase of the lawsuit brings the Boldt case into a new century. The
judge kept it open so that the affected parties could work out the
details of implementing his decree.
tribes and the state are negotiating to settle the culvert case,
said Fronda Woods, the assistant attorney general who specializes
in Indian laws.
don't see it being resolved soon," she said.
favorable outcome for the tribes would give them broader authority
to manage habitat and regulate growth in their watershed, Woods
numbers, greater standing
Ramona Bennett was elected to the Puyallup Tribe's council in 1968,
only 174 tribal members were enrolled. Today, the tribe has about
joined because they're proud of their heritage. Others signed up
because of monetary benefits from legal settlements and from the
Emerald Queen Casino, which opened in 1996. Each enrolled member
gets paid $2,000 a month.
their numbers have grown, so has their standing in white society.
had the reputation of dirty, drunk, lazy," Bennett said. "But
now we have smoke shops, fireworks and casino. The rest of the population
came to know us as industrialists, who are clever and hard-working."
1984, the tribe sued the Port of Tacoma, railroad companies and
others, claiming ownership to 160 acres in the Tacoma Tideflats.
In 1988, the tribe settled for $162 million in land, cash and programs.
It was the largest land-claims settlement ever negotiated with a
settlement provided $20,000 for each Puyallup and about $10 million
to the tribe's fisheries services. Another few million dollars came
to the tribe's fisheries after settlements with Puget Sound Energy
over disputes on the Electron Dam on the Puyallup River, as well
as another settlement with the port on the construction of a terminal,
said Joseph Anderson, the tribe's fisheries management director.
last week, the Puyallups made a deal with the port to secure its
support for a third tribal casino, probably along the freeway in
tribes are spreading their resources and wealth well beyond reservation
lands. In just one year, the Puyallups gave $175,000 to Riverside
Fire & Rescue for a fire truck, bailed out the 2001 Daffodil
Parade with $50,000 and pitched in $50,000 for a fallen firefighters
memorial on the Ruston Way waterfront, among other gifts.
governments receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from the tribe
for everything from police vehicles to sidewalk projects.
always been here," said Fife Mayor Mike Kelley, who went to
Fife High School with some tribe members. "We just see more
said the Puyallup Tribe has grown into a great partner with surrounding
are good friends to have," he said. "And (partnership
with them) is the way of the future."
charge of their own affairs
milestones wouldn't have happened if not for the momentum and recognition
the tribe gained from the Boldt decision, say tribal members, state
officials and Indian law experts.
had been scattered, and many were homeless. Reservation boundaries
were vague. All the Puyallups had was a cemetery.
were dying of federal neglect," Bennett said. "Government
was so arrogant they thought they had abolished us."
of the biggest spinoffs of the Boldt decision was the way it empowered
tribes to look after their own affairs.
meant that tribal governments became bigger," said Woods, the
assistant attorney general.
structures were imposed by outsiders, trumping the traditional ways
Indians have ordered themselves. But they at least became the medium
for tribes to effectively express their existence.
and the Legislature set up committees and held hearings to talk
about services for tribes, such as education, health care and law
show the scores of services the Puyallups now receive, Joseph Anderson
throws a 30-page tribal phone directory on his desk.
grew from a one-pager to this," the tribe's fisheries director
phone book lists scores of services the tribe didn't have before
1974: children's services, natural resources, Chief Leschi School
and the Emerald Queen Casino, to name a few.
about 35 tribal fishermen work the river anymore. But the tribe
has more than a dozen fisheries employees and several more in other
parts of its natural resources department.
amazing to see the scientific expertise that the tribes have at
their disposal," said Robert Anderson, the UW's Indian law
expert. "That grew directly out of the Boldt decision."
Bennett and Joseph Anderson say they don't mind people who joined
the tribe for money. They share the same Puyallup blood, and having
them is better than the alternative of extinction.
were put here to protect brothers and sisters and the nations of
fish," Bennett said. "We are still the people that were
put here, and government recognized that we were not going away."
morning at Wa He Lut Indian School, a prayer echoes from the speaker
system, followed by a rhythm of a coastal hand drum and singing.
teach them the circle of life," music instructor Melvin Blacketer
said. "Without the prayer, we couldn't have the school. Without
the school, we couldn't have the prayer."
1974 - the same year as the Boldt decision - Maiselle Bridges opened
Wa He Lut with a teacher from New York, fewer than 10 students and
herself as the cook. Wa He Lut was a Nisqually warrior and friend
of the legendary Chief Leschi.
put in windows high up because we didn't want our kids to see (state
game wardens) attacking us," Bridges recalled. "We used
to tell our teacher, 'When you see them come in, get the kids on
the floor so that they don't see us.'"
flood of 1996 destroyed the old building, and the federal government
sent $5 million to build a new school, which opened in 1998. Its
annual operating budget is about $2 million, mostly from federal
the teaching of Indian culture is integrated into the everyday curriculum.
In one activity, children dance in a circle, which has no beginning
or end - just like the cycle of life that carries salmon, humans
and the other creatures of Earth.
boys and girls can dance with smiles and not worry about wardens
outside. They need not get arrested to prove their rights. Looking
ahead a few years, they need not work as fishermen on the river
that flows near their school.
can be anything they want, as Billy Frank Jr. told them in the shadow
of his retired dugout canoe.
is a wonderful time," Frank said. "Hopefully, it'll stay
like this from now on."
decision sparked five-year legal battle
District Court Senior Judge George Boldt issues the "Boldt
decision," granting tribes 50 percent of the state's fish.
orders the state to "make significant reductions in the non-Indian
fishery" in order to make progress toward the 50/50 allocation.
The state appeals to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Washington Department of Fisheries adopts regulations to reduce
fishing by non-Indians.
fishing groups file suit in Thurston County Superior Court, and
the court concludes that the WDF director exceeded his authority.
9th Circuit Court affirms the Boldt decision.
U.S. Supreme Court denies review of the Boldt decision.
state Supreme Court rules that the WDF has no authority, under state
law, to adopt regulations allocating more fish to tribes.
WDF adopts fishing regulations that do not comply with the Boldt
assumes direct control of the fisheries, which are managed and policed
through federal court orders and federal marshals until late 1979.
9th Circuit Court affirms Boldt's orders. The state and nontribal
fishing groups seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
asks to be relieved of judicial duties because of failing health.
U.S. Supreme Court upholds the principles of the Boldt decision,
but rules the fish caught for ceremonial reasons and for families
should count toward the tribes' 50 percent share of the fish.
state Supreme Court overrules its prior decisions.
a judge read an 1854 treaty
Nisqually, Puyallup and other South Sound tribes signed the treaty
of Medicine Creek in 1854. It was one of six treaties affecting
13 Western Washington tribes, who forfeited most of their land and
resources and were systematically confined to reservations.
one line in the treaty eventually turned into a bigger concession
than territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens and the white settlers could
have imagined. It's the part that gives the tribes the "right
of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations ...
in common with all citizens of the United States."
1974, U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt interpreted that "in
common with" meant the tribes were entitled to half the state's
salmon and steelhead not needed for spawning. And he said "usual
and accustomed" meant Indians could fish at traditional places
off the reservation, too.
also ruled that fish caught by tribal members on the reservation,
fish that tribal fishermen take to feed their families and fish
taken for tribal religious ceremonies do not count toward the 50/50
allocation. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that part of the decision