More than a meal: How the Western Washington fishing rights movement changed the Puyallup community

Aubrey Sheton
History 400

In the middle of the 20th century, a controversy evolved into a movement that was based on an ethnic group's protection of their culture and way of life. This movement stemmed from the Native American fishing rights struggle in the Pacific Northwest. On the surface, the controversy dealt with sport and commercial fisherman disagreeing with Native Americans about how much a treaty tribe was allowed to fish, where it was allowed to fish, and what types of nets it could use. Underneath, there were cultural, social, political, racial, and power struggles that brought out intense emotions on both sides. The fishing rights controversy was about more than fish. Only a dispute about a group's way of life would lead to violent confrontations and a conflict that remained unresolved for many years.

The movement was a fierce, bloody, and emotional engagement that enraptured all involved and gained national attention. In 1974, U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt ruled that the treaty tribes were entitled to half of the harvestable salmon and steelhead runs in the state. This favorable ruling towards the tribes set off further fishing disputes until it was finally resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. In Washington, one of the tribes at the forefront of the movement was the Puyallup tribe. The Puyallup tribe's involvement with the movement is an example of how profound changes to culture and tribal identity resulted from the struggle. The Native American fishing rights movement was not just a fight for the right to fish; it was a struggle for the recognition of tribal existence, and in the process of that battle, the western Washington tribes were able to define who they were and embrace their culture.      

The essential issue of the controversy was not fish, but cultural differences. Environmental, humanistic, and conservation issues were all set aside as the fishing rights struggle became a battle between perceived special rights. Uncommon Controversy, a report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee in 1970, stated that these ethnic conflicts were not anything new, for there were many "long years of nonunderstanding of Indian life by whites," which made it "nearly impossible for either side to talk to the other."[1] To help better understand the history and context of the quarrel, it is useful to look at the treaties between the tribes and the U.S. Government, the broad cultural differences that existed between Native Americans and white Americans, the importance of fishing to Native Americans, and the tribal relationship with the state and federal government. To understand the changes that occurred as a result of the controversy, it is beneficial to study the tribal goals, the "fish-ins" themselves, the factions within the tribes, the role of outside celebrities and the media, and the impact of the 1974 Boldt decision. These issues, corresponding with the example the effects the movement had on the Puyallup tribe, will display how a fishing controversy turned into a clash of cultures.

The Puyallup tribe was one of the Native American tribes that was at the center of the fishing rights movement. In contrast to many other tribes, they lived in a more urban area, and most of their reservation lands had been sold to non-Native Americans. As Ruby and Brown note, the "proximity of the reservation to an urban center affected not only its eventual size, but also cultural development among its inhabitants."[2] Puyallup involvement in the fishing rights movement is beneficial to study because their closeness to the Tacoma community gave them even more reason to unite together as a tribe and work to create a positive image of themselves.

Part One: History and Context

On December 26, 1854, South Sound tribes signed the Medicine Creek treaty with Washington Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Issac Stevens. The treaty granted the tribes' "the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed stationsÉin common with all citizens of the Territory."[3] Most Washingtonian treaties had similar clauses: the tribes would live on reservations and give up their land, they could fish in traditional places, the U.S. government had supreme authority, and the tribes had a limited right to self-govern.

The Washingtonian Native American treaties with the federal government were fundamentally flawed because of their ambiguous language. The treaties were conducted in the Chinook trade language, which many Native American tribes didn't speak or understand well. Even Owen Bush, a member of Issac Steven's staff, said that "it was utterly impossible to explain the treaties to them in Chinook."[4] Perhaps Stevens' insistence on the use of Chinook was because he did not want the tribal leaders to fully comprehend what they were signing. Significantly, the "treaties themselves were written in English, which none of the Indians could read."[5] The flaws in the treaties opened the door for future conflicts between Native American tribes and their white neighbors, and laid the foundation for the fishing rights movement.

The treaty policy was originally "based on a desire to open the Indian lands to non-Indians, and to make the Indians into farmers and thereby provide for their assimilation into non-Indian society and the eventual termination of their reservations."[6] This goal was prevalent from the year Washington became a territory in 1853 to the mid 1930s. From the 1930's to the early 1950's, the goal of federal policy changed to a focus on strengthening tribal governments and keeping reservations intact. From the early 1950's until approximately the mid 1960's, in a policy orientation called termination, it changed back to the goal of assimilating Native Americans into the rest of society and getting rid of their reservations. Once again, however, from the mid 1960's to present day the federal government decided that the best way to handle Native American tribes was to "strengthen tribal self-government and preserve Indian reservations."[7] This indecision of the government not only shows how views of Native Americans changed over time but also how the goals of assimilation were not as successful as originally planned.

In addition to their confusing language and the unsettling changes in federal Indian policy, the treaties usually gave the Native Americans infertile land and often grouped enemy tribes together as one. In 1855, Nisqually Chief Leschi responded to these problems by leading an Indian coalition in an uprising, claiming that he never signed the treaty. The Natives lost the war, many Puyallup's were among the 530 Indians confined to Squaxin Island by J.V. Weber, and Leschi was hanged for murder in a case that is still disputed today.[8] Although the war initially failed, it is interesting to note that the Puyallup reservation was enlarged from 1,280 to 18,062 acres in 1857 by executive order.[9] This uprising showed how unhappy the western Washington tribes were with the treaties and displayed their willingness to fight for their land.

Even with all of the treaty problems, to the western Washington tribes, the treaties were and still are very important. They consider it a "living document."[10] Though the treaties were "often ignored, circumvented and trampled upon," they continue to "occupy a position of prime importance to the Indian."[11] Essentially, at the beginning of the fishing rights movement, the treaties were all the Native American people had left to protect their existence. They had already lost most of their land and culture, so even though the treaties weren't the ideal agreement with the government, the remained immensely important.

When Washington State officials attempted to control Native fishing on the Puyallup River in the mid-1950s, theoretically breaking the treaties, the fishing rights movement began. The state officials were breaking the treaties because not only were the Native fisherman supposed to be allowed to fish at "usual and accustomed places," the U.S. Supreme Court had stated that the treaties were "to be interpreted as Indians understood them."[12] The courts upheld the Native fishing rights at this time (State v. Satiacum, 1957), but in the early sixties the state began to arrest Native Americans fishing off their reservations.[13] In 1970, Uncommon Controversy stated that not only had the "disposition of these cases in the state courts" not been "consistent," but also the rulings were turning towards an "increasingly narrow interpretation of treaty-protected off-reservation fishing rights."[14] In these ways, the fishing rights movement was created when the Washington State Government began to break the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854.

To understand how the controversy became something that was more than about fish, the prejudices of non-Native Americans must be looked at. White Americans have had many long lasting stereotypes of Native Americans. These include the view that Native Americans are lazy, alcoholics, and dirty. In 1948, Washington State Secretary of State Earl Loe stated, "Modern people talk about old time Indians as though they had been careless and dirty, but they were especially careful of their appearance."[15] Although Loe is tying to refute existing stereotypes, his mentioning of these views suggest that they were very commonly held.

Another perceived stereotype that even some Native Americans accept is that Natives have a very different economic view than their white counterparts. Earl Loe states that to Native Americans, "wealth was more than ornament, wealth was something for them to eat, wear, and shelter them from the weather."[16] In 1973, the Indians Affairs Task Force, led by Eloise King, claimed that Native Americans "communal character" could not "be reconciled with the individualism" of those from a "European background."[17] Dr. Roberts of the UW School of Medicine said in 1966 that "the Indian has an antipathy to technological society: he doesn't want his life ruled by the clock."[18] This perceived view that the Native American holds a community view towards wealth and time presents a problem. Any ethnic group living within the United States is going to have a hard time economically if they don't conform to the American individualized, capitalistic way of life. By being looked at as different in one of the most treasured ways of American life, Native American tribes were separated culturally from the white people around them, and this separation made conflict easily ignitable. The stereotypes that existed between Native Americans and whites helped enable a fishing problem to explode into a cultural battle.

            The sport and commercial fishermen in Washington wanted to limit Native American fishing because they felt very strongly that tribal fishermen were to blame for conservation problems. As Charles Wilkinson explains, they viewed the "Indians as renegades who were flouting state conservation laws, sensible and valuable laws that had been adopted for good reasons."[19] They believed that native fishermen were a "main reason the runs had crashed."[20] Gifford J. Millenbach, chief of the Game Department's Fisheries Management Division, stated in 1970 that "Ôthe salmon nets used in the river by Indians were mainly responsible for the depletion of steelhead runs.'"[21] State enforcement officers felt that their job of stopping the Native American people from fishing "was a holy crusade and they would give no quarter."[22]

On the other hand, Native Americans claimed that the real problems concerning the fishing rights controversy had almost nothing to do with conservation or what type of fishing method was allowed. Uncommon Controversy, reported that for Native Americans, "survival as Indians required the survival of Indian fishing," and the "end of Indian fishing would be a great step toward extinction as Indians."[23] The Native American tribes of Washington State were very adamant that it was not their fishing methods that were destroying salmon runs. To them, conservation was "essential to the economic and social well-being of the tribes, which depend to a large extent on fishing for their livelihood, and which hold to their fishing rights as one of the remaining expressions of their Indian identity."[24] A Yakima councilman was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "If the salmon run is getting down to the point where you can count the salmon on your fingers, it's because of the white man's pollution, the white man's dams, the white man's radioactive waste."[25] These differing views towards the fish problem were the basis of the controversy that polarized two cultures.

What many Washingtonians didn't know or care about was the value of fishing to the Native American community. The term "treaty rights" became filled with emotion, and "like Ôconservation' on the other side," it "aroused more feeling" than it "promoted thought."[26] Many non-Native Americans believed that the "Indians' right to fish in different ways and under different rules" was "completely inappropriate."[27] They did not understand how fishing rights validated tribal identity nor did they care about the cultural value of Native American fishing.

In general, non-Native American society expects conformity. American society often equates "equal treatment with identical treatment, acceptable behavior with conforming behavior, and integration with assimilation." [28] So when Native American tribes claimed to have special rights, which made them immune to state fishing guidelines, one can imagine how angry non-Native Americans were. This anger over perceived special rights clouded the real problems, as the "tremendous amount of the resources and energy which could have been directed toward development of the fish has been spent instead on defense of the very right to an Indian fishery."[29] If the true controversy would have just been about how to conserve fish, there would have been fewer problems. Instead, white Americans saw it as a battle against special rights that harmed the fishing runs, and Native Americans believed their culture was being attacked.

As mentioned previously, not only was fishing essential for Native American identity, it was one of their main sources of revenue. Keeping this means of income alive was even more important considering that many Native tribal members were living in poverty. The 1978 Washingtonian House of Representatives report on reservation based tribes stated "it is a fact that the Indians living in Washington today suffer from a standard of living far inferior to that of the state's non-Indian population."[30] Unfortunately, the Puyallup tribe was no exception. In 1977, 51.4% suffered unemployment, "647 members made less than $5,000 per year," and only 186 made more than $5,000.[31] These numbers reflect how bleak the economic situation was for tribal members and also suggest how essential gaining and maintaining fishing rights was to their survival.

The role of the government was essential in the fishing rights movement. The Native American reservation tribe's relationship with the Washington State government was a troubled one. A 1978 Washington State publication on the state's relationship with its reservation based tribes stated that "If one were to characterize in a single word the present feelings of most of the state's reservation Indians towards state government that word would be Ôdistrust,'" and that "most reservation Indians believe that the state government represents almost exclusively the interests of non-Indians who by and large would like to see an end to Indian treaty rights and reservations."[32] Yet the state also recognized that "absent authorizing federal statute," it could "not encroach upon a tribe's right to self-government."[33] Furthermore it stated that the 1978 mood of Congress "appears to be one of strengthening tribal self-government."[34] Though appearing understanding and sympathetic in 1978, previously the state was not on the tribal side, as they took Native fishermen to court and imposed laws against their right to fish. Because the state supported the side of sport and commercial fishermen throughout the fishing rights movement, the Native American tribes believed they threatened their culture and existence and could not be trusted.

In contrast with the state government, Washington Native American tribes have had more of a trust relationship with the federal government. In 1831, Chief Justice Marshall declared that "their relationship to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian," and that they "look to our government for protection."[35] In the fishing rights movement, Washington tribes viewed the "federal government, particularly the federal judiciary, as the major force which protects their treaty rights and reservations from destruction by the state and the non-Indians it represents."[36] These tribes knew very well that "they had no truck with the Washington state courts, but they had faith that the federal judiciary would honor the treaties."[37] Understanding that the federal government held the "Ôsupreme law of the land,'" they were assured that the highest governmental authority was on their side, and this greatly boosted their confidence in the movement.[38] The controversy was further heightened as the state took the side of the sport and commercial fishermen and the federal government supported the Native Americans.

The Puyallup court cases were very inconsistent. In September of 1964 in the Pierce County Superior Court, Judge John D. Cochran ruled in a case against Puyallup leader Bob Satiacum that "net fishing is legal within the boundaries of the original Puyallup reservation."[39] Then in May of the following year, Judge Cochran ruled that "the Puyallup tribe no longer exists, and issued a permanent injunction against their fishing in the Puyallup River."[40] These inconsistencies further promoted Native American feelings of distrust towards the government, and also gave their white opponents legal grounds to oppose them.

The historical relationship between the western Washington treaty tribes and the white Americans that surrounded them could be labeled as troubled at best. From the moment the Medicine Creek treaty was signed in 1854 the tribes had been trampled on and taken advantage of. In many ways, all that remained of the tribe's non-Americanized past was their treaty right to fish. This right was a representation of their Native culture and identity and it was not going to be given up without a courageous fight.

Part Two: Struggle and Changes

Native American tribalism was revived in the struggle for their right to fish. Even though the obvious goal of the fishing rights movement was to preserve and extend the tribes' existing rights to fish, the movement became a way in which the tribes were able to articulate their uniqueness and state their goals for improving their community and culture. The Governors Indian Affairs Task Force can best sum up the goals and the demands of the fishing rights movement in 1973:

We feel the power of the Indian societies that have endured through the years in the face of the determined efforts of those who would have eliminated us forever and those who would have helped us by changing us into redbrown copies of themselvesÉIt is as though we were emerging from a long sleep, no longer content to merely survive.[41]


The task force wrote that Native tribes were now coming together and articulating the importance of their treaty rights. They claimed that the land was everything they "knew, valued, and loved," and were demanding that the state discontinue "the process of destroying" their "identity."[42] The task force felt they had to make sure outsiders were aware that the tribes were not asking for "charity, paternalism, or benevolence."[43] They were simply requesting that the state "honor the treaties and laws which commit the United States as protector" over them, their land, and their rights to "remain a distinct people."[44] The task force wrote that the tribes demanded the "social, health, and educational services promised and guaranteed" to them when they "surrendered control over all but a small fraction" of their land.[45] They maintained that the tribes would never "wither away," because their "spirits called" for them to acknowledge their heritage.[46] The task force concluded that "TOGETHER WE CAN ACHIEVE A JUST SOCIETY THAT PERMITS US AS INDIAN PEOPLE TO SUPPORT AND SHARE THE COMMON GOALS OF THE MAJORITY SOCIETY WITHOUT LOSING OUR IDENTITY AS INDIAN PEOPLE."[47] In short, Washington treaty tribes were demanding that their right to remain a distinct people be protected and that they be treated with the same justice and equality of every other American citizen.

            The Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force wrote in 1973 that one of the main goals for the Puyallup was to receive "similar recognition" as African American and Asian groups, which had "organized and received recognition" in the community of Tacoma.[48] Although they valued their uniqueness as a race, the Puyallup tribe did not want to be viewed as outsiders by locals in Tacoma. They wanted to be respected for their differences while sharing the land of their ancestors. By clearly defining their goals as Native Americans, the Puyallup, along with the other Washingtonian tribes, were clearly defining themselves and embracing their culture.

On Oct. 13, 1965, at Frank's Landing in Olympia, six Puyallup tribal members were among the first Native Americans arrested and jailed for illegal fishing. So what exactly would happen at these "fish-ins"? Charles Wilkinson wrote in Messages from Frank's Landing:

It was kaleidoscopic. Family. Armed arrests. Fierce resistance. Indian people from all over. Celebrities. Black Panthers, SDSers and hippies. Common well-wishers. Constant surveillance from across the river. Smoke emerging from the smokehouses and wood stoves. Commerce and the processing of fish. Indian humor and laughter. Earnest talk of treaties, federal courts, and the Constitution.[49]


Many Native Americans helped force the courts to become involved by aggressively asserting their right to fish. These "maverick fishers" used "fish-ins, demonstrations at government facilities, and participation in national protest marches" to get their voices heard.[50] These tactics, violence, and the way the state and other non-Indians reacted, were successful attention grabbers, as they forced the media to provide a "highly visible platform on which to stage their drama."[51] This direct action attracted "politicized Indian and non-Indian youth, less illustrious but equally willing to join demonstrations or risk arrest."[52]

Yet, fishing rights protests were no picnics. Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually Indian, mentioned at the height of the movement that "ÔIt was a good day if you didn't get arrested.'"[53] Typical raids by the authorities included police using their "billy clubs and tear gas," Native protesters throwing "stones and sticks at the intruders," and "ugly, heartrending brawls" that made it on film and the front page of newspapers.[54] Uncommon Controversy reported that:

Harassment by state enforcement officers and reportedly by irate sport fisherman has occurred. Nets have been cut and other gear destroyed. The state has confiscated expensive gear at the time of arrests, according to some of the fishermen involved, and has not returned it even when charges were later dropped or the defendant acquitted.[55]


Native fishermen were also complaining that "pressure from the state has kept fish buyers from buying fish caught off reservation," which was devastating to their income.[56] To be able to go out on the rivers each day took enormous courage and shows how important the right to fish was for the Native American tribes, for they were risking their bodies and freedom in the process.

On September 9, 1970 an incident occurred with the Tacoma Police and the Puyallup that attracted national attention. Gunfire erupted as police tried to stop Puyallup fishermen from using nets to fish. Four shots came from a group of Native Americans and the police responded with tear gas and arrested sixty of the Puyallup involved. One of the Puyallup men threw a firebomb that set a bridge on fire. Tribal spokeswoman, Ramona Bennet stated, "ÔIf anyone lays a hand on the net, they are going to get shot.'"[57] Another Puyallup cried, "We're serious, there are no blanks in our guns. First they disease our water, then our air, and now they want to disease us. It's a sad thing we have to bring guns out, but we are a dying people and have to fight for survival as we have for 500 years.'"[58] This example sums up the desperation of the movement and the extremes the Native Americans were willing to go to preserve their rights. These measures the tribes took in the fishing rights movement show how essential it was for them to preserve and embrace their culture.

However, not all the tribes were united in the methods of maintaining and protecting their rights. In fact, the many trials and tribulations of the fishing controversy revealed "western Washington Indians' diversity, internal divisions, and uncertainty about the bases for the identity they claimed."[59] Not only did Native demonstrators fish in "defiance of state regulations," they were many times "against the wishes or regulations of Indian governments."[60] When the fish-ins themselves became "tactical models for national Red Power organizations in the late 1960s, militancy on the rivers escalated" but not all Native leaders were happy with these methods.[61] Some "leading local Indians shrank from confrontations and publicly disavowed the militants."[62] They believed they "Ômust live compatibly with our white neighbors,'" and when the Survival of American Indians Association (SAIA) announced its support for the national Poor People's March in 1968, leaders of the Quinalt, Quileute, and Klallam tribes condemned the decision and "dissociated themselves" with Hank Adams, SAIA's leader.[63] They all agreed that the right to fish was "sacred," it's just that some felt that they should "'wait, and the promises (treaty guarantees) of the Great Father would come true.'"[64] Like the African-American civil rights movement, the people involved had many different opinions and ideas about the most effective ways to achieve their goals.

            The national media also picked up on these factions within the tribes. A 1966 New York Times article stated that "A militant faction of Indians, dissatisfied with the more conservative advice of what they call ÔUncle Tom-a-hawks,' demand bigger and more defiant fish-ins."[65] Nisqually tribal historian Janet McCloud was quoted as saying that the SAIA had "spurned offers of help from groups suspected of being too far Left," because the Federal Bureau of Indian affairs would only support Native Americans if they fished by "tribal sanction and their fishing is not a proven threat to salmon conservation."[66] Charles McEvers, regional secretary of the American Friends Service Committee's Indian program, reflected how even outside "liberals" were not always "sympathetic" of the Native cause, because "liberals suspect that the Indians are using the treaty rights as a kind of crutch to support their separateness."[67] Different methods and opinions within tribes are significant to note because in their struggle to preserve their identity, Native tribes had to first overcome divisions within.

As the Washington fishing rights struggle became more widely known, activist celebrities came to assist the tribe's involved. In 1966, The New York Times commented on the role of outside celebrities: "Hollywood, or a segment of it, has sided with the Indians: Marlon Brando and Dick Gregory participated separately in fish-ins, and Mr. Gregory and his wife were in and out of the Olympia jail several times."[68] Messages from Frank's Landing also commented on celebrity involvement:

Actor Marlon Brando came, lending his name to the effort. Canadian fold singer Buffy Saint Marie sang to her sisters and brothers. Luminaries of the future- Richard White, later a leading historian of the American West, and Elizabeth Furse, who became an Oregon congresswoman in the 1990s- stood on the banks of the Nisqually and heard the messages. The black comedian Dick Gregory drew national attention and also lightened the skies. The Indian people liked him and his humor. At one press conference, a reporter asked Gregory if he had been offered tribal membership. His response was, ÔNo thanks, I've got enough problems.'[69]


When Dick Gregory joined the protest by fishing on the Nisqually River on February 6 and 14,th and on March 1, 1966, with SAIA, he was convicted of illegal fishing for steelhead and sentenced to 90 days in the Thurston County Jail in Olympia. There he started a fast and eventually lost 50 pounds. Even the Sheriff remarked that Gregory had "'a lot of will power.'"[70] Unlike Marlon Brando, perhaps because of his black skin color and lesser celebrity, Gregory had to go to jail and fulfill his entire sentence.

At first, some tribal leaders weren't sure they wanted outside celebrity's involvement. The Nisqually tribe was initially opposed to Brando because they feared a "movie star might detract from the seriousness of the issue."[71] Yet this attitude soon changed as celebrity support of the movement greatly helped the tribes. Not only did it bring them attention, it helped their courage. Suzan Satiacum, Robert Satiacum's wife stated that "'Marlon Brando was the first person of non-color to step forward and help us.'"[72] Shirley Satiacum, Robert Satiacum's sister, said "Brando's contribution helped set the tone," that it "'made us all braver,'" and gave the people fighting "'more backbone.'"[73] By bringing attention and inspiring those involved, the impact of outside celebrities was largely positive in helping the tribe's embrace their culture and validate their cause.

The media played a significant role in how people viewed both the Native American tribes and the sport and commercial fishermen. The report for the American Friends Service Committee was very critical of how the media was affecting the fishing rights movement:

News stories in the mass media both illustrate the problem of attitude toward differences and contribute to it through their public impact. The message frequently is: ÔIndian fishing is destroying the salmon and steelhead.' Important distinctions have not been made between off- and on- reservation fishing, different reservations, different practices, and different fisherman. ÔHundred-year-old treaties' are described directly or by implication as outdated and inappropriate. The concern of the state and the sportsmen for preservation of the fish runs is emphasized. The massive problems of controlling the fish environment are touched only in passing.[74]


By portraying Native American fishermen as "irresponsible and unreasonable in their fishing practices," existing stereotypes were strengthened "without conveying a sense of legitimate disagreement."[75]

The coverage of a 1976 incident, in which the Puyallup tribe seized back the Cascadia Center in Tacoma, is a good example of local media biases. Government officials were very upset over a federal decision, which granted the Puyallup tribe the Cascadia Center in 1976 and ruled that it had previously been taken away from them illegally in 1961. Ramona Bennet commented on the politician's reaction by saying that she thought "Ôracism was on the decline in this state, that citizens of Washington were growing more adult in their attitudes. Now I'm not so confident of that anymore.'"[76] Reflecting on the fact that the seizure had made local headlines and national news, Bennet wondered if the newspapers would "'scream as loudly at the state for illegally depriving us of our property for so many years, as they screamed at us for the action we took in occupying Cascadia."[77] They didn't; this article only appeared on the back pages of the paper.

Nationally, the media seemed reasonably fair. One of the first articles to appear in The New York Times stated that "Indians of several small tribes, adopting the militant tactics of the civil-rights movement, have staged marches and Ôfish-ins' to dramatize their resistance to attempts, chiefly by the State of Washington, to curb their fishing rights at ancestral fishing grounds outside the reservations."[78] This largely accurate description was different than local media reactions. For example, when the Puyallup tribe clashed with the police on September 9th, 1970, the Tacoma News Tribune only mentioned the facts of the incident. They stated that "some 60 Indians and sympathizers" were arrested, but unlike The New York Times, they gave no quotes from members involved, nor did they state any of the reasons for the confrontation.[79] By presenting more of the reasons for the controversy instead of just the results, The New York Times gave readers a more balanced insight than local newspapers.

In 1969, the Native American tribes around the Pacific Northwest received great hope in the case of Sohappy vs. The State of Oregon. In the case of decorated Yakima war veteran Richard Sohappy, the "Oregon judge found that state regulators not only had failed to treat Indians as a group with special federal rights but also had discriminated by allowing other to take the fish before Indians had a chance to try."[80] The judge concluded that the "state should not restrict Indian fishing unless failing to do so would imperil the salmon's existence."[81]

Soon after the Sohappy case, the "federal government entered the fray on the Indians' side," and Justice Department lawyers sued the state fisheries agencies in a U.S. District Court at Tacoma, beginning U.S. v. Washington.[82] Much to the non-Native American fishermen's dismay, after four years of court battles, Judge George Boldt found that "Indian fishermen had not wasted or harmed the runs."[83] Boldt's ruling that the tribal Indians were entitled to 50% of the states harvest was met with fierce resistance from the non-Native American fishing community. They believed the "50-50 idea was radical, a travesty" for Native Americans were less than one percent of the population.[84] The decision was somewhat ironic because before the movement, Native fisherman were only taking up to 5% of the annual fishing harvest, and after being blamed with destroying the fish runs, they were now entitled to 50%. Judge Boldt ruled that the Native American treaty tribes were entitled to one half of the harvestable fishing runs, that "Indians had rights distinct from and superior to the privileges of other state citizens," and that when they fished with non-Indians they were agreeing to "share their own most important resource."[85]

Unfortunately, the Boldt decision was not the end of the controversy. Boldt's "order- more so than nearly any court decree ever handed down- was extraordinarily difficult to enforce."[86] The Department of Fisheries "regularly refused to enforce Boldt's orders," and "non-Indian fisher held Ôfish-ins' in defiance."[87] On August 22, 1971 a non-Indian group called the Committee to Save Our Fish gave a protest demonstration by the Puyallup River to "protest the Indians' being allowed to net fish the river while non-Indians are not."[88] When the state department did seek enforcement, "state court judges-effectively partners with the state administrators-usually threw out the charges."[89] This led to hundreds of contested enforcement orders from Judge Boldt, which deeply tested his determination and resolve. Outlaw fisheries "became the norm - along with hangings of Judge Boldt in effigy and a proliferation of bumper stickers: ÔSlice Belloni (Oregon judge), Screw Boldt'; ÔCan Judge Boldt, Not Salmon'; ÔLet's give 50 percent of the Indians to Judge Boldt.'"[90] This backlash toward the Boldt decision was very similar to the Native American protests that had occurred not too long before and displayed the unwillingness of white Americans to accept Native tribe's special rights.

In 1978, the House of Representatives in Olympia recognized the continuing fishing problems after the Boldt decision. They stated that the decision has "been met by substantial resistance," that the "Washington State Supreme Court in several cases has refused to recognize the validity of the federal decisions and has barred state fishing officials from complying with them," and that "the deep and persuasive resistance to United States v. Washington guarantees that treaty fishing rights issues will not be resolved for some time."[91] They concluded that the Washington State Supreme Court would "never recognize the Boldt decision until the United States Supreme Court in a definitive decision upholds it."[92]

In 1976, in the Department of Game v. Puyallup Tribes, Inc. case, the Washington Supreme Court "held that the treaty right to fish Ôin common with' non-Indians is a right to an equal opportunity to fish."[93] Boldt's ruling was challenged again in April of 1977, when the U.S. Supreme Court "once again indicated that treaty Indians have superior fishing rights" (Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game,).[94] In 1978, the House of Representatives in Olympia stated that "the Washington Supreme Court is not prepared to recognize the Boldt decision until the United States Supreme Court in a definitive decision upholds it."[95] The U.S. Supreme Court finally upheld the Boldt decision in 1979 and no more new challenges were presented.

Despite all the anger after the 1974 Boldt decision, the Washington treaty tribes did change many outside stereotypes. People began to see the fishing rights struggle as an "allegory about America's treatment of its native peoples and minority groups," and a "correspondingly positive image of Indians gained credibility."[96] Harrison Sachse, an attorney who aided the tribes in the 1974 Boldt decision, said that the "Ôstruggle showed the lengths that the Indians will go to preserve their culture. It is opposite of the myths regarding Indians Ð that they are lazy and don't want to work.'"[97] Through the movement, the "Northwest tribes had acquired a dignity, a moral content that was understood and appreciated by a great many Americans."[98] By showing how hard they would work to stand up for their rights and their culture, the Native American tribes of the Puget Sound were able to change long-standing stereotypes and gain a newfound respect among the outside community.

In the years following Judge Boldt's 1974 decision, the culture of the Puyallup tribe began to become more important to them and they were gaining positive recognition in the Tacoma community. In a front-page article from the Tacoma News Tribune in August of 1977, there was a feature story about the Puyallup asking a blessing on the season's first salmon run. The article was very positive and mentioned the cultural, ritual, and spiritual importance of the salmon blessing. It noted that "the ceremony of the first fish had been neglected for more than a hundred years" until it was started again for the first time the previous year.[99] The article concluded with a Puyallup elder emphasizing that they must "teach the children," for "someone has to keep these things alive."[100] On June 13, 1977, the Tacoma News Tribune also did an extensive article about how the Puyallup Indian Reservation lands were sold at much less than valued in the late 1890s and early 1900s by corrupt and dishonest white government officials. The article concludes that the 1974 Boldt decision gave the tribe a "new sense of hope," because it recognized their legitimacy despite their land losses.[101] By recognizing important aspects of Puyallup tribe culture and addressing the controversial issues that the tribe wanted to bring up, the News Tribune shows how local perceptions of the tribe were beginning to change in Tacoma.

The 1974 Boldt Decision in United States V. Washington was very significant in the revival of tribal culture. It validated long years of struggle and helped positively redefine their image. It "became the basis not only for peace between the state and Indian fishers but also for the kind of self-representation that many western Washington Indians had come to favor. It even assumed a prominent place among the symbols of a national Indian identity."[102] In essence, the decision "affirmed that a historical promise of fishing rights was a vital basis of modern Indians' identity."[103] All of Washington's Native American tribes looked favorably on the decision. To the elders, the court decision was a "'tribute to the resiliency and tenacity of their ancestors,'" and to the youth the Boldt decision "'shaped a new image of self.'"[104] This decision, although it concerned fishing, had a far greater impact on tribal culture and identity than it had on the fishing industry.

In the 1980s, the Puyallup tribe began to receive long awaited federal help. On February 20, 1984, twelve acres taken by the Port of Tacoma in 1950 had to be given back to the tribe, which eventually became the site of the Emerald Queen River Boat Casino. In February of 1989, President Bush signed a bill paying 77.25 million of a 162 million dollar agreement to the Puyallup tribe for land wrongfully taken and sold. The rest of the agreement came from the Port of Tacoma (43 million), the state of Washington (21 million), from private business (11.4 million), and from local government (9 million). Each tribal member received $20,000. In 1994, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Rafeedie expanded Boldt's decision to include 50% of naturally occurring shellfish and in 1999 the Supreme Court let that ruling stand.[105]

Today, the tribe is operating three different Emerald Queen Casinos, which enable each tribal member to receive $2,000 dollars a month. No longer living in poverty, the question now is how will the tribe use their new monetary resources? Issues of perceived special rights have continued to be controversial. Just recently, Initiative 892 was on the ballot which concerned Washington State tribe's special privilege to have tax free slot machines in casinos. Although the initiative did not pass, it did show that some people still do not like the idea of Native Americans getting special rights. The future of the Puyallup seems to be a bright one, yet many of its greatest challenges seem to be in continuing to foster and develop positive relationships with the Tacoma community.

The Native American fishing rights movement was not just a fight for the right to fish; it was a struggle for the recognition of tribal existence, and in the process of that battle, the tribes were able to define whom they were and embrace their culture. The long years of problems between Washingtonian tribes and the white communities that surrounded them were both causes and results of flawed treaties, cultural differences, the significance of fishing to the tribes, and the tribal relationship with the government. The Native American goals during the movement, the direct action of fishing rights protesters, the factions within the tribes, the impact of celebrities and the media, and the aftermath following the 1974 Boldt decision all contributed to the changes that occurred within tribal culture. These parts of the movement could explicitly be seen in their effects on the Puyallup tribe. The fishing rights battles between Puget Sound tribes and the State of Washington in the 1960s and 1970s were the last defense of Native American identity and culture in the region. In their victories, the Washingtonian tribes preserved their right to be a unique people for generations to come.  




Crowley, Walt, Wilma, David. "Federal Judge George Boldt issues historic ruling affirming Native American Treaty fishing rights on February 12, 1974." Washington History Link Database Essay. 23 February, 2003. (9/26/2004).

"Fishing rights from 1854." The Olympian, 9 February 2004, 1.

Gottfried, Miriam. "Activist actor's arrest in 1964 'fish-in' recalled." The Tacoma News Tribune. 3 July 2004, pg. A.01

Harmon, Alexandra. Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relationships and Indian Identities around Puget Sound. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Kamb, Lewis. "Indians fondly recall 'caring,' loyal Brando." Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3 July 2004, 1.

McRoberts, Patrick, Oldham, Kit. "Fort Lawton military police clash with Native American and other protesters in the future Discovery Park on March 8, 1970." Washington History Link Database Essay. 15 August, 2003. (9/26/2004).

Ruby, Robert H., Brown, John A. A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest (2nd edition). Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

Wilkinson, Charles. Messages from Frank's Landing. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2000.

Wilma, David. "Native Americans and supporters stage fish-in to protest denial of treaty rights on March 2, 1964." Washington History Link Database Essay. 1 March, 2003 (9/26/2004).



"A Fishing Dispute Expands On Coast." The New York Times. 27 September 1970, pg. 53.

A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee. Uncommon Controversy. Seattle and London. University of Washington Press, 1970.

Bailey, John, Lizberg, Carl. "Puyallup Indians Seize Cascadia Center." The Tacoma News Tribune. 24 October 1976, A-1.

Bigart, Homer. "Indians Are Pitted Against Game Wardens in Great Fish War of Northwest." The New York Times. 14 August 1966, pg. 68.

"Brando Stand In Puyallup Case Recalled." The Seattle Times. 28 March 1973, A6.

Burke, Tim. The Legal Relationship between Washington State and its Reservation-Based Indian Tribes. Office of Program Research House of Representatives: Olympia, WA. August 31, 1978.

Loe, Earl. Washington State Secretary of State, Indians in Washington. Olympia, 1948 (?)

"Fish Melee Clash Echoes in Court." The Tacoma News Tribune. 10 September 1970, 1.

"High Court Rules In Puyallup Fish Case." The Seattle Times. 23 June 1977, A10.

"Indian Leader Fishing For Greater Opportunities In Area." The Seattle Post. 2 June 1974, A10.

"Indians' Fish Rights Target Of Protest." The New York Times. 23 August 1971, pg. 58

"Indians on Coast Upheld in Fishing." The New York Times. 13 February 1974, pg. 14.

Lee, Robert C., "Dick Gregory Goes Fishing." The Nation. 202 (1966): 487-489.

Mottram, Robert. "Indians to defy court, hold Cascadia." The Tacoma News Tribune. 28 October 1976, A-1.

Mottram, Robert. "Judge Cuts Puyallup Net Fishing." The Tacoma News Tribune. 20 December 1978, A-1.

National Indian Youth Council Constitution. In A. Bloom, W. Breines (ed.) Takin it to the Streets (pg. 148-150). New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 199

"Police and Coast Indians Clash Over Fishing Rights." The New York Times. 10 September 1970, pg. 30.

"Renaissance of Tribes Stuns Society." The Tacoma News Tribune. 14 June 1977, A-1.

Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees. The People Speak: Will you listen? State of Washington, 1973.

"SLF Joins Puyallup Indians In Fight To Gain Fishing Fights." The Seattle Times. 13 August 1970, B4.

Turner, Wallace. "McCarthy Unable To Visit Gregory." The New York Times. 13 July 1968, pg. 13.

Webster, Kerry. "Ramona: Give us title by Jan. 15." The Tacoma News Tribune. 4 December 1976.

Webster, Kerry. "Indian lands sold at much less than value." The Tacoma News Tribune. 13 June 1977, A-1.

Webster, Kerry. "Indians ask blessing on season's first salmon in ancient rite." The Tacoma News Tribune. 30 August 1977, A-1.


[1] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, Uncommon Controversy, (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1970), 107.

[2] Robert H. Ruby, John A Brown, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest (2nd edition) (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 166.

[3] Unknown Author, "Fishing rights from 1854," The Olympian, 9 February 2004, 1.

[4] Tim Burke, The Legal Relationship between Washington State and its Reservation-Based Indian Tribes (Office of Program Research House of Representatives: Olympia, WA. August 31, 1978), 5.

[5] Tim Burke, 6.

[6] Tim Burke, 4-5.

[7] Tim Burke, 114.

[8] Robert H. Ruby, John A Brown, 166.

[9] Robert H. Ruby, John A Brown, 166.

[10] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, Uncommon Controversy, (Seattle and London. University of Washington Press, 1970), 113.

[11] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 113.

[12] Tim Burke, 59.

[13] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 107.

[14] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 107.

[15] Washington State Secretary of State Earl Loe, Indians in Washington, (Olympia, 1948 (?)), 18

[16] Earl Loe, 1.

[17] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees. The People Speak: Will you listen? (State of Washington, 1973) 3.

[18] Homer Bigart, "Indians Are Pitted Against Game Wardens in Great Fish War of Northwest," The New York Times, 14 August 1966, pg. 68.


[19] Charles Wilkinson, Messages from Frank's Landing, (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2000), 31.

[20] Charles Wilkinson, 31.

[21] Unknown Author, "A Fishing Dispute Expands On Coast," The New York Times, 27 September 1970, 53.

[22] Charles Wilkinson, 31.

[23] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 192

[24] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 113.

[25] Homer Bigart, pg. 68.

[26] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee,192

[27] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 191.

[28] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 191.

[29] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee,193.

[30] Tim Burke, 12.

[31] Tim Burke. 34.

[32] Tim Burke, 11.

[33] Tim Burke, 51.

[34] Tim Burke, 51.

[35] Tim Burke, 58.

[36] Tim Burke,11-12.

[37] Charles Wilkinson, 40.

[38] Charles Wilkinson, 40.

[39] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 109.

[40] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 109.

[41] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees, The People Speak: Will you listen? (State of Washington, 1973) V.

[42] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees, 3.

[43] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees, 4.

[44] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees, 4.

[45] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees, 4.

[46] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees, 47.

[47] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees, 47.

[48] Report of the Governor's Indian Affairs Task Force: Urban and Landless Tribes Committees, 60.

[49] Charles Wilkinson, 42.

[50] Alexandra Harmon, Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relationships and Indian Identities around Puget Sound, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 233.

[51] Alexandra Harmon, 233.

[52] Alexandra Harmon, 233.

[53] Charles Wilkinson, 33-34.

[54] Charles Wilkinson, 38.

[55] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 107.

[56] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 108.

[57] Unknown Author, "Police and Coast Indians Clash Over Fishing Rights," The New York Times, 10 September 1970, pg. 30.

[58] Unknown Author, The New York Times. 10 September 1970, pg. 30

[59] Alexandra Harmon,232.

[60] Alexandra Harmon, 232.

[61] Alexandra Harmon, 233.

[62] Alexandra Harmon, 233.

[63] Alexandra Harmon, 233.

[64] Alexandra Harmon, 233.

[65] Homer Bigart, 68.

[66] Homer Bigart, 68.

[67] Homer Bigart, 68.

[68] Homer Bigart, 68.

[69] Charles Wilkinson, 40.

[70] Wallace Turner, "McCarthy Unable To Visit Gregory," The New York Times, 13 July 1968, pg. 13.

[71] Miriam Gottfried, "Activist actor's arrest in 1964 Ôfish-in' recalled," The Tacoma News Tribune, 3 July 2004, pg. A.01.

[72] Lewis Kamb, "Indians fondly recall Ôcaring,' loyal Brando," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3 July 2004, 1.

[73] Miriam Gottfried, "Activist actor's arrest in 1964 Ôfish-in' recalled," The Tacoma News Tribune, 3 July 2004, pg. A.01.


[74] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 193.

[75] A report prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, 193.

[76] Kerry Webster, "Ramona: Give us title by Jan. 15," The Tacoma News Tribune. 4 December 1976, A5

[77] Kerry Webster, A5

[78] Homer Bigart, 68.

[79] Unknown Author, "Fish Melee Clash Echoes in Court," The Tacoma News Tribune, 10 September 1970, 1.

[80] Alexandra Harmon, 230.

[81] Alexandra Harmon, 230.

[82] Alexandra Harmon, 230.

[83] Charles Wilkinson, 31.

[84] Charles Wilkinson, 56.

[85] Alexandra Harmon, 230.

[86] Charles Wilkinson, 56.

[87] Charles Wilkinson, 58.

[88] Unknown Author, "Indians' Fish Rights Target Of Protest," The New York Times, 23 August 1971, 58.

[89] Charles Wilkinson, 58.

[90] Charles Wilkinson, 58.

[91] Tim Burke, 99.

[92] Tim Burke, 102.

[93] Tim Burke, 100.

[94] Tim Burke, 101.

[95] Tim Burke, 102.

[96] Alexandra Harmon, 232.

[97] Alexandra Harmon, 232.

[98] Charles Wilkinson, 46.

[99] Kerry Webster, "Indians ask blessing on season's first salmon in ancient rite," The Tacoma News Tribune. 30 August 1977, A-1.

[100] Kerry Webster, A-1.

[101] Kerry Webster, A-1.

[102] Alexandra Harmon, 231.

[103] Alexandra Harmon, 231.

[104] Alexandra Harmon, 232.

[105] Unknown Author, "Fishing rights from 1854," The Olympian, 9 February 2004, 1.