Afternoon speakers: The Legal Perspective

Stuart Pierson served as an Assistant US Attorney during the U.S. v. Washington litigation from 1971 to 1975.

Early in his career in civil rights law, he “found that law could be an effective instrument for minorities who had their rights being constantly trampled.”

“I came out here to prosecute the bad guys and ended up working with the good guys.”

The Fish Wars were an increasingly violent conflict and Pierson was the only one in the U.S. Attorney’s office who had experience getting an injunction against the state law enforcement.

The tribes had a clear supreme right: The treaty.

The tribes had a faithful judge.

The tribes had the tools.

“Collectively with the other lawyers for the tribes, we put together a remarkable record….We had a lot of discovery, a lot of interrogatories, a lot of documents. Two things we had were biology and anthropology.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s dedicated biologist was Jim Heckman.

The anthropologist was Barbara Lane. “What we told her we needed was to work with the tribes, go back and develop as much as the true history and anthropology.

“When you interview an expert, you have a fear that they’re going to give you the wrong answer. Barbara never gave me an answer, she gave me a full understanding of each tribe, a history of cannery period.”

Her work was crucial to all of us and gave us a sense that we could provide Judge Boldt with the fundamental understanding that none of the people outside the court knew until this decision.

John Echohawk, Pawnee, is the executive director of Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and is dedicated to helping Native Americans with legal issues. 

“I started in fall of 1970 in California, as part of a project of the Indian Legal Services Program. We wanted to expand our services nationwide and with a grant from the Ford Foundation, we started offering legal advice and assistance to Indian people who didn’t have legal representation. It took in nearly all our people but we had substantial rights under the treaties.

“It was a daunting task to look around the country and figure out what was the most priority … the one that jumped out at the most was what was happening in this area. There were a lot of arrests and violence and and it was national news. So it became pretty clear to us that this was one of the issues that thought we’d see if we could help with.”

NARF spent time in this area and had to think big in terms of the treaty.

“It was outstanding what Boldt did. (NARF) was very strong in asserting that very substantial right on behalf of the tribes. It has because something of a tradition for us, fighting for big issues around the country. Sovereignty issues, federal termination cases. Headlines were all across the country in terms of our people standing up for their rights through the work of NARF. We also worked with Native American leaders to help us determine which were priorities.

These leaders today continue to help address issues across the country. We’re involved in all kinds of issues with tribes across the country – tribal sovereignty, human rights, natural resources protection, as a nonprofit we’re always looking for ways to raise funds to help those who don’t have the resources to fight themselves.

Now in our 44th year, it’s great to have the tribes step up and provide resources to NARF. Like Billy was saying, these issues go and on and on.

Patricia Zell is the former staff director/chief counsel, U.S Senate Committee on Senate Affairs

Zell started off with a quote from President Lyndon B. Johnson: “We must affirm the rights of the first Americans to remain Indians while exercising their rights as Americans. We must affirm their right to freedom of choice and self-determination.”

She was a part of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that came to Washington state to examine if there was discrimination was being practiced against Indians, where she first met NW tribal leaders, including Ramona Bennett, Gilbert Kinggeorge and Billy Frank Jr.
Post-Boldt decision showed that backlash from the non-tribal citizens was due to ignorance.

“When people don’t know what the laws are and the rights are the rights are, they have to make judgements on what the media says or politicians say.”

Native Americans have been treated as a people of the past.

“There’s a gross lack of information about us as a contemporary people and people who still live in this country. This is the same message we ask the young people to listen to. It ran through the lives of your parents and grandparents. And it will run through your lives as well.

“That ignorance, that lack of knowledge – many members of Congress think that the treaties signed and approved so many ears ago are not relevant anymore or shouldn’t be. It’s a challenge you’ll have and your children will have. We have to keep on keeping on with the job of education.”

Zell spoke to a proposed bill to decommercialize steelhead: “In this case, the members of the different panels  represented the state, the tribes, the commercial fishermen, sports fishermen and those who were engaged in management at state, tribal and federal level. They all spoke to senate committee before the hearing and wanted to sit together as one panel. Each witness stood up, which was unusual and gave testimony standing up. ’10 years after the Indian wars and now 10 years since Boldt decision, we’ve decided we work fine as is. We are co-managing the resource, we are working together. We have developed and flourished relationships that we plan to continue.'”

In the aftermath, it was a remarkable development in a very short time. And that good work goes on.

“The work of the Boldt Decision goes on and that’s what the young people, that’s the foundation it has stood on and you can do it again.”