On February 21st 2018, Washington State Assistant Attorney General Mike Grossmann announced that their office will be seeking to challenge the Skokomish Tribe’s ownership of the Skokomish river in order to open the river up to fishing for non-Tribal members.
In 2016, the Skokomish Tribe blocked public access to the lower stretch of the river that runs along the edge of their reservation. According to the Kipsap Sun, “The move [to close public access the river] came after the U.S. Department of the Interior issued an opinion reaffirming the river was a part of the Skokomish Reservation and not controlled by the state.”
In a presentation to the Kitsap Poggie Club in Bremerton, WA Grossman stated, “lawyers for the state believe the Department of the Interior erred in its opinion supporting the tribe’s ownership of the river. But the state can’t sue the tribe or federal government because both governments have sovereign immunity. An alternative is to bait the federal government into suing the state by reopening the Skokomish to recreational fishing.”
“We never relinquished ownership of the river.” ~ Skokomish Tribal Chairman Charles “Guy” Miller
The Skokomish Tribe had previously asked the Department of the Interior [DOI] to review their right to the river and in January 2016 the DOI issued an opinion backing the tribe’s ownership claim. DOI concluded that the boundaries of the Skokomish reservation, which were established by the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point and an 1874 executive order, both encompassed ownership the river to the Skokomish Tribe.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has risen to national prominence due to aggressively challenging the Trump administrations agenda, has also aggressively challenged Tribe’s treaty rights.
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.
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.”
In August 2017, AG Ferguson filed an appeal to the culvert case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a press release he states, “Tribal treaty rights are vitally important. I appreciate and share the goal of restoring salmon habitat, but the state has strong legal arguments that the Ninth Circuit decision is overbroad.”
He further argued that, “some culverts do not harm salmon and that the tribes’ treaty rights to fish do not mean they are entitled to enough fish to provide a “moderate living” from fishing.”
Bob Ferguson’s war on treaty rights continues.
by Wakíƞyaƞ Waánataƞ (Matt Remle- Lakota)