- Boldt Decision
"United States v. Washington", 384 F.Supp. 312 (W.D. Wash. 1974) better known as the "Boldt Decision", was a controversial 1974 court case which affirmed the right of most of the tribes in the
U.S. stateof Washingtonto continue to harvest salmon. Many opponents of this case couch it as a "grant" of rights to the tribes. More accurately, the decision was simply affirming that when the Tribes released their interest in the millions of acres of land in Washington State through a series of treaties signed in 1854 and 1855, they reserved the right to continue fishing. For example, the (1854) includes the following language: "The right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory." Most of the treaties negotiated by Territorial Governor Isaac Stevensincluded this, or very similar, language.
To interpret this article of these treaties, United States District Court Judge Boldt looked at the minutes of the treaty negotiations to determine the meaning of "in common with" as the United States described it to the Tribes, and determined that the United States intended for there to be an equal sharing of the fish resource between the Tribes and the settlers.
Of this, Judge Boldt wrote: "By dictionary definition and as intended and used in the Indian treaties and in this decision, 'in common with' means sharing equally the opportunity to take fish…therefore, non-treaty fishermen shall have the opportunity to take up to 50% of the harvestable number of fish…and treaty right fishermen shall have the opportunity to take up to the same percentage."
The decision was the culmination of years of State of Washington limitation of treaty fishing by the Tribes, resulting in the United States suing the State of Washington to force the state to comply with the treaties. It was immediately met with shock and outrage by non-Native fishermen, but the ruling has held for more than 30 years.
Today, the Tribes of Washington State are equal partner with the State of Washington in both harvest and management of the fishery resource. The Tribes have spent hundreds of millions of dollars since the Boldt Decision in efforts to protect and enhance the salmon, shellfish and hunting resources of the State.
Sohappy v. Smith: a similar case in Oregon
* [http://www.nwifc.org/aboutus/documents/BoldtDecision8.5x11layoutforweb.pdf Boldt Decision]
* [http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5282 Federal Judge George Boldt issues historic ruling affirming Native American treaty fishing rights on February 12, 1974.] Article from historylink.org.
* [http://kohary.com/env/bill_020799.html 25 years after the Boldt Decision: The fish tale that changed history.] Article from Seattle Times.
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