Treaties & Cases
What documents support the right of Indians to fish in the Columbia Basin?
Columbia Basin Indians within the borders of the United States reserved the right to fish
on the reservations and at off-
reservation "usual and accustomed" sites in their treaties. The language used to describe
this right is similar in the various treaties as demonstrated below.
Yakama Treaty, 1855:
The exclusive right of taking fish in all the streams, where running
through or bordering said reservation, is further secured to said
confederated tribes and bands of Indians, as also the right of taking fish
at all usual and accustomed places, in common with the citizens of the
Territory, and of erecting temporary buildings for curing them; together
with the privilege of hunting, gathering roots and berries, and pasturing
their horses and cattle upon open and unclaimed land.
Hell Gate Treaty, 1855:
The exclusive right of taking fish in all the streams running through or
bordering said reservation is further secured to said Indians; as also the
right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed places, in common with
citizens of the Territory, and of erecting temporary buildings for curing;
together with the privilege of hunting, gathering roots and berries, and
pasturing their horses and cattle upon open and unclaimed land.
How have the courts interpreted the treaty rights?
This reserved right has been upheld in the courts of the United States. In 1969, Judge
Robert Belloni ruled that Indians had a right to a "fair and equitable share" of the
Columbia River fishery in
Sohappy v. Smith:
treaty Indians be given an
opportunity to catch fish at their usual and accustomed places equal to
that of other users to
catch fish at locations preferred by them or by the state.
Judge Belloni left what was a fair and equitable share open for interpretation. What was a fair
and equitable share? In 1974, Judge
George Boldt answered this question when he decided in
United States v.
Washington the treaty provision to fish in common
with non-Indians meant that tribes were entitled to the opportunity to catch up to fifty
percent of the harvestable fish.
By dictionary definition and as intended and used in the Indian treaties and in this decision
common with' means sharing equally the opportunity to take fish at
accustomed grounds and stations'; therefore, non-treaty fishermen shall
have the opportunity to
take up to 50% of the harvestable number of fish that may be taken by
all fishermen at usual
and accustomed grounds and stations and treaty right fishermen shall
have the opportunity to
take up to the same percentage of harvestable fish, as stated above.
The challenge for Indians in the twenty-first century is to make sure that there continue to
be salmon in the Columbia Basin to fish.
The Spiritual & Cultural Connections
What is the relationship between Indians and salmon in the Columbia Basin?
We have selected some quotes from native people who speak about the importance of salmon,
as well as the other foods of the basin such as berries, water, and roots to their diet and
Our religious leaders told us that if we don't take care of the land, the water, the fish,
the game, the
roots and the berries we will not be around here long. We must have our
Delbert Frank, Sr., Warm Springs
We learn a lot of lessons from watching animals. The salmon are one of our best teachers.
We learn from them that we have to do certain things by the seasons. We watch the salmon
as smolts going to the ocean and observe them returning home. We see them fulfill the
circle of life, just as we must do. If the salmon aren't here, the circle becomes
broken and we all suffer.
Leroy Seth, Nez Perce
The loss of the food and the salmon is monumental -- and it's all tied together. Food is a
really big part of the Yakama culture -- as it is elsewhere. Anywhere you look in the world,
food carries culture. So if you lose your foods, you lose part of your culture -- and it has
a devastating effect on the psyche. You also lose the social interaction. When you fish,
spend time together -- you share all the things that impact your life -- and you plan together
for next year.
Salmon is more important than just food. . . . There's a huge connection
between salmon and tribal health. Restoring salmon restores a way of life. It restores
physical activity. it restores mental health. It improves nutrition and this restores
physical health. It restores a traditional food source, which we know isn't everything --
but it is a big deal. It allows families to share time together and builds connections
between family members. It passes on traditions that are being lost. If the salmon come
back, these positive changes would start.
Chris Walsh, Yakama
Traditional activities such as fishing, hunting and gathering roots, berries and medicinal
plants build self-esteem for Nez Perce peoples -- and this has the capacity to reduce the
level of death by accident, violence and suicide affecting our people. When you engage in
cultural activities you build pride.
You are helped to
understand what it is to be Nez
Perce -- as opposed to trying to be someone who is not a Nez Perce. In this way, the
salmon, the game, the roots, the berries and the plants are the pillars of our world.
Leroy Seth, Nez Perce