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Illegal Trials Play on Anti-Indian Sentiments
Yakima Indians took up firearms to protect themselves and their gear against the combined forces of the states of Washington and Oregon. In the early morning hours of July 27, armed Yakimas arrested five game wardens at Cooks Landing and held them at gunpoint until they could be turned over to the State Patrol, which assured the Indians that the wardens would be available for trespass charges to be filed in Federal Court. Delno Hoptowit, 22, a Yakima, explained to the press: "They claim they are trying to stop us to save the salmon. The commercial white fishermen below the dam take more fish in one night than all the Indians can take all year. We have to fish now, before the white commercial season starts, or starve. Once they start, their 1500-foot nets literally block the whole channel of the river. In a couple of days they will clean out all the fish."
Before the Yakima took up arms, over 32 Indians had been arrested in night raids. After the Indians retaliated, Robert Robinson, chief administrative officer of Washington's Fisheries Department, told the press that his department "will enforce the law where able to, but will not risk the lives of its enforcement agents. There is no use running full force into these people. We are not going to risk our lives for a few fish." The night arrests ceased. After that, Indians were arrested when they went to the store, one by one.
The hostility of the public is shown in an Oregon newspaper editorial "It has been many generations since the last armed conflict between white men and red men... But bullets could fly and blood flow, if rifle-toting Yakima Indians are so brash as to use their weapons to back up their claim to the treaty rights to string nets across the river... American Indians learned to their sorrow the folly of trying to defeat the whites by force of arms."
Last year Malcom S. McLeod, attorney for the twenty Indian tribes in western Washington, had told the public in a television interview: '"There is likely to be bloodshed. You can't deprive a people of their livelihood and expect them to take it lying down." His prophecy would seem to be bearing fruit.
Halvorson's fish market in Tacoma could not be intimidated by the state wardens. So wardens came to the market every day, checking fish receipts and trying to scare away business. He continued to buy fish from the Indians.
Danny Newton and his wife Alice, both Indians, armed with a federal trade license and $7,000 in cash from a timber sale on their allotted land, decided to buck the state of Washington and buy fish from the Puyallup Indians. In July of 1964 they set up a fish-buying camp in the seven acre plot of land owned by the Puyallup tribe within the metropolitan area of Tacoma. The state immediately put their camp under 24-hour surveillance. Newton's trucks were followed everywhere by both city and state police. He got thirty traffic tickets in one week alone, for everything from driving an inch over the dividing line to driving too fast or too slow. The Newtons were investigated by both the Health and Welfare departments, constantly persecuted by Washington state officials.
Newton bought the Indians' fish for cash, and sold them to bigger markets on a consignment basis. He bought fish from his Indian brothers for over three months, until his ready cash gave out. One market which owed him about $7,000 (an amount approximately equal to his original capitalization) refused to pay him. He obtained a lawyer who did get back a small amount of the money, but Newton took a big loss. Without resources to investigate, the Indians can never be sure, but they feel that the state was involved in this swindle.
Newton and his wife were arrested five times for illegal fish buying, but as he had a federal trade license, they never lost their case. Yet they never won: after all attorney fees, traffic tickets, and all the other forms of harassment, the Newtons lost all their money and suffered severe mental anguish. Today the Indians list them among the casualties of the war between the Indians and the State.
Another fish buyer who is on the state's blacklist is Roy Stritmater. Roy owns a fish market in the town of Hoquiam, Washington. He bought fish front the Washington Indians for at least forty years. This is only a sideline, as most of his fish comes from non-Indian commercial fishermen. Roy's brother Lester Stritmater is an attorney and justice of the peace. Roy not only buys salmon from the Indian! but the controversial salmon-like steelhead trout, which the state of Washington has declared a game fish.
Roy had been branded a renegade by the state officials, even though he is officially licensed to do business. He has been arrested numerous times and has had to pay large bail bonds. He has had hundreds of tons of fish confiscated. He has been chased on wild raids by wardens threatening bodily harm. Yet he refuses to bow down to the state. He fights inside and outside the courts. Of course, there is a world of difference between Stritmater, a non-Indian with an already thriving business, and Newton, an Indian just starting his business and with no attorney brother to defend him. The state is hurting Roy's business by using propaganda: they tell the white commercial fishermen that Roy is an Indian-lover and a renegade. He has lost a lot of his fishermen.
The American Civil Liberties Union, entering the case on the Indians' behalf, delegated Mr. Bill Hansen to represent the arrested fishermen. He filed a writ of prejudice against the local judge, and the case was removed to Federal Way Justice Court. The Muckleshoots announced their now historic treaty trek. Old and young Indians along with non-Indian sympathizers trekked for fifteen miles from the reservation to Federal Way, to present the judge with a copy of the Port Elliot Treaty, as a protest of the state's encroachment of the treaty rights. The judge hurriedly had the case removed from his court before the Indians finished their trek. When the judges finished their game of passing the buck around, the Indians ended up in Seattle District Court, before judge James J. Dore.
At the trial it was apparent that the State had prerehearsed its witnesses. Almost all of them used exactly the same words on the stand, and were cool, calm, and deliberate in their testimony. The Indians were unrehearsed and emotional in their defense. In their attempt to show the jury that the Indians are savages and incapable of understanding the need for conservation laws, State attorneys stressed over and over how the Indians catch and kill the fish, as though the Indians were being tried for murder of the fish rather than violation of state game laws. "After they caught the fish", the deputy prosecutor said, "they used big rocks and clubs on the poor fish and their eyes flew out and the blood flew in the air. (Unlike whites who let the fish suffer a long and agonizing death, Indians are taught early to hit the fish on a certain spot to kill it instantly.)
The U.S. Attorney's office sent an attorney to represent the Federal Government's defense of its treaty commitments with the Sko-bobch Indians. Bill Hansen, of the ACLU, represented the Indians, 'Decil Moses, Robert Moses, Sherman Dominick and Larry Maurice. Their defense was that since their ancestors were signatories to the Port Elliot Treaty, which Chief Seattle signed in their behalf, that state had no jurisdiction over their common and accustomed fishing stations on the Green River. The state was not in existence at the time of the treaty agreements, and is therefore an interloper trying to establish ownership of the Indian fishing stations. It is true that the Indians ceded the land, but they specifically retained ownership of all the Washington waters - legally speaking, they are the riparian owners. Tribal elders took the stand to defend the young fishermen and to identify them as tribal members.
Mike Johnson, assistant to the State Attorney General, and Donald Skinner, King County Deputy Prosecutor, represented the State of Washington. They sought to block the entering of the treaty as evidence in the Indian defense, but were overruled. Nevertheless, they were able to convince the jury that there were no such Indians as the Sko-bobch. (Few white Washingtonians have any concept of the complexities of Indian social organization in this region. Early settlers dubbed all the Indians by the derogatory term of "siwash" (French sauvage - savage) and most whites, even now, think of all western Washington Indians as "Siwash Indians"; I've even seen this libel in school textbooks. --Editor's note)
The Indians, of course, lost. Their attorney gave notice of appeal.
The Muckleshoots have been a source of inspiration to Indians all over the United States (and outside it) because of their unity and their fight. No other tribe in this state (there are 37 in existence today) has staged such a fight outside of the courts as this tribe. They have literally no money, and are few in number - yet this summer they had a treaty trek, a canoe trek, and another march in Seattle, old and young alike, fisher people and non-fisher people, Indian and non-Indian. Only those who have an accurate knowledge of the Indians' history understand or realize the importance of this feat. It marks a new page in the Indians' future history.
The Lummi tribe near Bellingham ran into difficulty with the state over the demand that the Indians give up their best waterfront land for a new scenic freeway that the state wants to build. The Indians refused to sell their land, but the state will not take no for an answer. Every method is being used to pressure the Indians into selling. The method the state has found most effective is an attack on the young children: the state has discontinued school buses on the reservation. Until the Indians give in, they must get their children to school themselves. Lack of transportation is not accepted as an excuse for absence. If the children are not in school, parents are taken into court as unfit to retain their custody. The Lummis also have problems over their fishing rights, and many have been jailed. The Lummis are one of the most peaceful tribes in the state, but their patience is bound to run out.
The Skokomish tribe, like the Muckleshoots, allowed the state to build a fish hatchery on its river above the fishing sites. Now the state claims it owns the whole river, because the Indians gave permission to build a hatchery. The Skokomish are a fighting tribe. If the State keeps up its demand that they move off their river - watch for fireworks! The Skokomish tribe has another fight with the state, over the sale of real fireworks on the reservation, contending that the state has no jurisdiction on reservation land, and that its ban on fireworks sales is therefore void. This case has not yet been brought to trial.
Every tribe in the United States is involved in a legal battle if one sort or another - - illegal taking of Indian land, hunting rights, human rights, oil leases, uranium, gold, timber and fishing rights.
Every government official states that these matters must, and can only, be settled in the courts. Court battles have been going on since Andrew Jackson was President and the Cherokees fought his Indian Removal Act. The United States Supreme Court ruled for the Indians, but the Cherokees were removed anyway. The fisher Indians have been in court fighting since 1905, and the federal courts have ruled for us, yet what good are these federal court rulings! The courts cannot enforce their decisions and never will be able to. The American Indians who are under the guardianship of the U.S. are the richest people in the world - and still the poorest. When the Indian people finally come of age and can manage their own estates, will there be anything left to manage? - the Great Spirit and everyone else knows that America's once poverty-stricken immigrants (who flocked over here from Europe with literally nothing) are now the richest people in the world. No wonder - they are the executors of our estates.
As it was in the past with the Cherokees, so it is today with the Negroes in their battle for civil rights. MISSISSIPPI! Cherokee country. The rich red American blood of the Cherokees flowed freely over the country and fertilized it. Today, the Negroes trying to make this nation's people live up to its courts' decisions, and to the laws of Congress, and to the claims it makes to the world about "Life, Liberty, and Justice for all", are fertilizing the soil with their blood. No: the quest for justice will never find fulfillment in American courts.
The only solution to the American Indians' problem lies with the United Nations, for the following reason: treaties! No matter what tribe is fighting, the fight is over treaty rights. The fact is evident that the Indians are getting nowhere - merely being drained of their funds for legal expenses. If the Indians must be under a guardianship, they should be placed under a United Nations trusteeship, which would not be in a position to make a profit from Indian resources as do our trusts today. The first thing the U.N. would have to do is review all the treaties between the new United States and the American natives. What every Indian tribe is fighting for is only what was stipulated in those treaties. All the land that was reserved should and must be re-established under tribal ownership, for the majority of Indians are wandering homeless on this land. The whites who live illegally on reservation land today (for treaties stipulated that no whites would be allowed to reside upon Indian land) should be amply paid for their removal. Those Indians who prefer to follow the road of the whites should be. free to do so, but those who are sickened of the whites' way of non-life, as many are, would reside within the safety of the reservations. All this would be watched over by a United Nations trusteeship, which would also help the Indians with their economic, health, education and welfare problems until the Indians are capable of doing these things themselves - which would happen much faster than under the present system.
previous section: White Society Depletes Salmon, Blames Indians / Fish-ins, Rallies and Growing Support / Dick Gregory Joins Indian Fight / Formation of The Survival of American Indian Assc. / Yakima Fight for Rights