Posted by on Jun 11, 2018 in Featured

US Supreme Court Tie Upholds Treaty Rights in Culvert Case Decision

US Supreme Court Tie Upholds Treaty Rights in Culvert Case Decision

June 6th 2018, Washington D.C. – The Supreme Court deadlocked in a 4-4 ruling today in battle over whether Washington State must pay to replace culverts in order to help salmon recovery and protect tribal fishing rights.

The ruling leaves a June 2016 Ninth Court decision intact that backed a district court’s decision the ordered Washington State to replace around 1,000 culverts that negatively impacted salmon spawning grounds.

In 2001, twenty-one Tribes sued Washington State over culverts and their impact on salmon. Tribe’s argued that the culverts, steel pipes or concrete tunnels that carry streams beneath roadways, “are too narrow or too steep for salmon to swim through.” The culverts, they argued, posed a significant barrier for salmon populations.

The Tribe’s treaty rights affirm their right to continue to hunt and fish in the usual and accustomed grounds.

Failing culverts deny our treaty-reserved fishing rights that include the right for salmon to be available for harvest. The right to harvest salmon was one of the few things we kept when we gave up nearly all the land in western Washington.”  ~Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission chair Lorraine Loomis


Culverts beneath state roads keep salmon from hundreds of miles of habitat in Washington.
Credit WSDOT

In 2013, Federal Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that tribal treaty-reserved rights to harvest salmon include the right to have those salmon protected so they are available for harvest. He ordered the State to fix and reopen 450 of the 800 most significant salmon-blocking culverts by 2017.

He argued that, “tribal treaty-reserved rights to harvest salmon include the right to have those salmon protected so they are available for harvest.”

Last summer, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (Democrat) filed a petition to the Supreme Court in attempt to overturn the Ninth Court decision.

The decision is a huge victory for Tribe’s treaty rights and tribal sovereignty.

by Wakíƞyaƞ Waánataƞ (Matt Remle)

Matt Remle (Lakota) is an editor and writer for Last Real Indians and LRInspire and the co-founder of Mazaska Talks. Follow @wakiyan7