Home Global Village US treaty with Native Americans put to test in Supreme Court

US treaty with Native Americans put to test in Supreme Court

Native Americans
  • 106
    Shares

AFP |

The US Supreme Court was transported to the American West and another century on Wednesday as it heard a case involving Native Americans and salmon fishing rights. The protracted legal battle is over making repairs to road culverts that impede salmon migration.

The Washington state government claims the repairs would cost “billions of dollars” and provide only limited benefit to the spawning fish. The state’s 21 Native American tribes insist that the state authorities are required to carry out the work under treaties guaranteeing their fishing rights.

The case new rests with eight judges of the Supreme Court after Justice Anthony Kennedy recused himself because he previously worked on the issue during the 1980s. The Supreme Court is expected to announce its ruling before the end of June.

The tribes have an unusual ally in the case — the US Justice Department, which is siding with the tribes against the state authorities. The origins of the dispute date back to the expansion of the American West by white settlers in the mid-19th century at the expense of the indigenous population.

Isaac Stevens, the iron-fisted first governor of what was then Washington Territory, negotiated a set of treaties with the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Under the 1854 and 1855 treaties, the Indians of Washington Territory ceded vast swaths of land in return for retaining fishing rights.

Read more: My Dad: The illegal refugee who hired Americans

Unreasonable

The treaties included a near-identical clause: “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.” “Washington’s barrier culverts undermine that right by preventing the fish from getting to their spawning grounds — and to the Tribes’ fishing grounds,” the tribes argued in a brief with the court.

Washington state has hundreds of culverts channeling streams under thousands of miles of roads and highways. But the tribes argue that many of the culverts are inadequate or poorly maintained, contributing to a steep decline in the salmon population.

A 1997 study concluded that if only half of the then 363 fish-blocking culverts under state roads were repaired, 200,000 more adult wild salmon could be produced annually. Washington state, however, contends that the treaties clash with the needs of development and modernity — and would create a financial burden of up to $2 billion.

The US Supreme Court was transported to the American West and another century on Wednesday as it heard a case involving Native Americans and salmon fishing rights. The protracted legal battle is over making repairs to road culverts that impede salmon migration.

“The State of Washington wants to protect salmon,” Noah Purcell, the solicitor general of Washington state, told the Supreme Court on Wednesday. But the demands of the tribes were “unreasonable,” Purcell said. “We have to replace culverts even when salmon can’t reach them,” he said.

Read more: US bullying tactics that increasingly mean nothing

Allon Kedem, speaking for the US Justice Department, said “the state has an obligation to refrain from degrading the fishery resource.” “This right of taking fish is secured by a federal treaty,” added William Jay for the Suquamish Tribe. “The state (of Washington) has violated the treaty.”

Justice Elena Kagan appeared to side with the Native American tribes. “The Indians gave up a very substantial thing — they gave up all their lands,” Kagan said. The tribes won in federal court in 2007 and in an appeals court in 2016. The case new rests with eight judges of the Supreme Court after Justice Anthony Kennedy recused himself because he previously worked on the issue during the 1980s. The Supreme Court is expected to announce its ruling before the end of June.

© Agence France-Presse


  • 106
    Shares

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.