40 Years Later: Boldt Decision Celebrations With Some Caution
In 1985, Canada and the United States signed the Pacific Salmon Treaty; through the Pacific Salmon Commission, both countries cooperate in the management, research and enhancement of Pacific salmon stocks.
In 1994, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Rafeedie ruled that indigenous treaty signers had also reserved the right to harvest shellfish from any beds not “staked or cultivated by citizens,” meaning all public and private tidelands are subject to treaty harvest. “A treaty is not a grant of rights to the Indians, but a grant of rights from them,” Rafeedie wrote in his decision.
In 1999, the state Legislature adopted the Forests & Fish Law, directing the state’s Forest Practices Board to adopt measures to protect Washington's native fish and aquatic species and ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act. The law affects 60,000 miles of streams flowing through 9.3 million acres of state and private forestland.
Gilbert Kinggeorge, Muckleshoot, said the victory in the Fish Wars “opened the door for everyone to participate in fighting for treaty rights.” He talked about some of the challenges, at one time seemingly insurmountable, that Native Nations have overcome recently in order to restore salmon habitat: The removal of several miles of dikes to restore the Nisqually River estuary; the removal of two dams on the Elwha River; the Muckleshoot Tribe’s purchase of 96,307 acres of forest through which the White River flows on its way to Puget Sound.
“There are many others,” Kinggeorge said, adding that battles are not over. Indeed, in 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that the state must remove hundreds of state highway culverts that block fish passage over the next 17 years. The state is appealing the decision.
“Tomorrow, there is going to be another battle. We’re going to win that one too,” Kinggeorge said.
Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, told young people in attendance to remember the stories they heard that day.
Frank stood on the stage with a crowd of Native children, held an eagle feather, and told of when his father was at boarding school. “He couldn’t speak his language, he couldn’t sing these songs. He couldn’t wave this eagle feather, he couldn’t pray. It was a bad time,” Frank said. “Now is a good time. We’re singing these songs and speaking our languages again.”
He continued, “Remember this day, this history. You are going to be the next generation to take the fight on. It never stops. Fight for your culture, fight for your way of life.”
Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp talked about the fire that was lit by those who have fought the battles.
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