The Survival of Washington Indians
“Governors move on and legislators move on and directors move on, but we're still here managing the resources.” Billy Frank Jr., chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
When non-Indian settlers arrived, fish runs dwindled. By 1905, Yakama Indians challenged their access to ancestral fishing grounds at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court declared salmon as important to Indian tribes as the air they breathe.

Canneries sprang from the landscape. Fishing vessels combed the waters. Dams changed river flow and blocked fish passage.

Fisheries managers accused Native fishermen of destroying runs with gillnets. Indians accused whites of overfishing the ocean. The longtime battle reached the U.S. Supreme Court another six times.

The struggle escalated in the 1960s and landed on the steps of the Washington State Capitol. Tribal fishermen made their case to the American public with Hollywood and the media. A landmark court case in 1974 handed the tribes a huge victory. Judge George Hugo Boldt ruled in U.S. v. Washington that the treaty tribes of Washington were entitled to up to 50 percent of the harvestable catch. After a fierce backlash, Indians and non-Indians began to divide and co-manage the resource.
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Weir: Native Americans used weirs, much like underwater fences, to trap fish. To ensure healthy runs, tribes opened the traps at times so schools of salmon could return home to spawn.

Celilo Falls: At Celilio Falls, skilled tribal fishermen balance on rickety wooden platforms to spear their fish. The construction of the Dalles Dam buried the ancestral fishing grounds under water in the 1950s.

Salmon label: The lucrative fishing industry dominated the Northwest, springing to life in the 19th century. In the 1880s, there were some 39 canneries on the Columbia River, but the industry “fell into near oblivion” when salmon and steelhead runs collapsed.

Nets in water: Just after the turn of the 20th century in Ilwaco, Chinook families come together and fish.

Master of Ceremony Harlan James, known as La-mos, raises the first salmon to return home from its daring migration. The Lummi Nation hopes to spur strong fish runs by returning its bones to the waters off the Lummi Peninsula.
Treaty Fishing Struggle