ABORIGINE and the LAW
June 9, 1974


ABORIGINE AND THE LAW


Whereever the Europeans have migrated in large numbers from their own home lands into lands that are already occupied, and have set up their own legal world system, you will find problems, conflict, confuson and chaos. Like the rip tide occurs when the fresh waters from the rivers meet the sea. One feels totally powerless when they are caught up in the rip tide. A conflict always arises when the legal world system meets the natural world system and the Aborigine and the law is just another title for the same thing. A seminar on the same subject could, and perhaps should be held in the U.S., in Canada, South America, South Africa, New Zealand and many other places in the world of today.

The people invovled in this world wide conflict from both systems are confused for each perceives the problem form their world view point. The legal world people see the mass education of the natural world people as the only solution to world order, to assimilate them psychologically into the legal world, adinfinitum.

I am going to try and present my world view point of this world wide problem. It is only a small view point but I share it, and some of my own experience - the bitter and sweet - perhaps those who read i or hear my words are like me, seeking a way out of chaos and are working for a better world system to bring our grand children into.

I am a Native American Indian from a small tribe (Tulalip) located in the North West Coast of the United States. I am married to Don McCloud, Puyallup Indian fisherman. We are the parents of eight children and the grandparents of three.

For the past fifteen years of our life we have been engaged in a struggle with the State of Washington, over our fishing locations on the rivers and waters in the Puget Sound area. This struggle is a continuing one and started in the 1850's when the westward push of the immigrating Europeans finally reached the Pacific Ocean. Our struggle is in trying to hold on to our remaining lands, fishing, and hunting rights. The covetousness of the Christian Europeans seems to us insatiable. The three evils that seems to push them is "explore, exploit, exhaust and move on."

In 1854 several treaties were negotiated in this N.W. area. The legal world emissaries gathered together several tribes at a place called "She Na Ham." The larger tribe in the territory at that time was the Nisqually. Several of the Nisquallies who could understand a little English language were made chiefs for the purpose of signing the treaty. The purpose of signing was to transfer the title of land from its natural aboriginal status into a legal title. It has been aptly called the biggest real estate swindle of all recorded time.

The important thing I am trying to bring out from this ancient history is that at that time it was only the land that was wanted by the immigrating European. The N.W. tribes were fish-people and had no clear concepts of land ownership. They had no understanding at all of the legal world system. But they understood the guns and the army and that they were to placed on lands set apart from the whites. they worried about how they would feed themselves. So in each treaty they were guaranteed the "right of taking salmon in their usual and accustomed fishing grounds and stations." In perpetuity - or for "as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the mountains stand."

But with the development of fish canneries and sports fishing the Indian fisherman have been pushed off the waters and the treaties have been ignored - it is an old recurring story. Covert it - steal it - then legalize - then can be moralized - and justified.

So there we were in 1961 surrounded by game wardens and policemen with clubs and guns and tear gas - ordering us off the rivers, beating and arresting us, if we are resisted. We'd ask them "What about our treaty?" and we've been told "Its just a 100 year-old worthless piece of paper!"

There we were - we'd lost most of our land, our language, our religion all we had left was our fishing rights. We had no real education no other skills. We knew we had to resist this final encroachment.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, supposedly set up to protect our rights, turned their backs to our pleas for assistance. They'd turn up in courts testifying for the states. No attorneys would represent us. We had no money to pay them or for the costly appeal system. Justice can be obtained in the legal world system, but it has a high price tag that few can afford.

So all we had was ourselves and our determination. We held fish in violation of restraining orders and we were arrested and went to jail. We used the news media by picketing and demonstrating to get our plight to the people. We had no money, no attorneys to represent us. We educated ourselves. We discovered that our people were only being educated for menial hire - carpenters, barbers, welders. etc. There were no Indian attorneys, doctors or statemen at that time. More and more of our young people demanded higher education and came out as attorneys, educators and professional people.

More and more Indian tribes, Indian organizations and Indian people are involved in the every day problems and confront us. Today the fishing rights struggle continues, but on a more equal footing. Tribes are involved in innovating self-help programs, like the Lummi Aqua Culture program, or they are building fish hatcheries and canneries. They are determined to hang onto what remains of their land, their rights and their resources. Taking from the legal world systems that which can help protect and rebuild their Indian communities. But without losing the philosophies and knowledge of the natural world system, that taught them to harmonize their lives with all around them.

And the legal world people are starting to appreciate and understand the natural world and the knowledge of the natural world people. A synthesis is happening for some, where only chaos resigned supreme yesterday. And the Great Spirit willing a new day will soon dawn for all.

Today as a child of the Mother Earth, I work with our traditional leaders and people who still adhere to the ancient knowledge and we have meetings every summer in different areas of the U.S. and Canada, so that our children can learn in our oral traditionals the knowedge of the natural and spiritual worlds of our people. On the other hand within the legal world system, I am still working with the others who are trying to get legal services for our people. I am presently on the steering committee of the Native American Rights Fund which is staffed by many of our young dedicated people who are attorneys or secretaries.

In closing I wish to point out that I am not trying to be egocentric by only talking about my own life and experiences, it is only because it is my life that I know the best. I am not a legal expertise or even an expertise of the natural world, I am only a common person struggling to find my place in the sun and receiving a lot of blisters.

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