Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game of Washington

PETITIONER: Puyallup Tribe
RESPONDENT: Department of Game of Washington
LOCATION: South Boston Court

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 391 US 392 (1968)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1968 / Mar 26, 1968
DECIDED: May 27, 1968

Facts of the case


Media for Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game of Washington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1968 in Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game of Washington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1968 in Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game of Washington

Earl Warren:

No. 247 Puyallup Tribe, petitioner, versus Department of Game of Washington et. al., and No. 319 Eugene Kautz, et. al., petitioners versus Department of Game of Washington.

Mr. Knodel?

Arthur Knodel:

Mr. Chief Justice, and members of the Supreme Court.

This matter is before this Court on a certiorari to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

The subject matter is the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854.

This is a Treaty that was entered into between the United States Government and the Puyallup Indians, the Nisqually Indians and others.

The primary issue that is before the Court as we see them is first of all, can the State of Washington, in the exercise of its police power, pass and enforce such fishing regulations so as to effectively repeal that provision in the Medicine Creek Treaty that guaranteed to these Indians the fishing right.

The second question is do the Courts of the State of Washington have jurisdiction to determine this matter in such case where they have not obtained the consent of the Indians or the consent of the federal government.

I think, in order to get a little more to my point, I'm going to take short five, six minutes to cover the backgrounds and facts of the case.

In this particular case, when the Medicine Creek Treaty was negotiated with the various, the tribes, the Puyallup Tribe and the Nisqually Tribe, the Indians relinquished to the United States Government thousands of acres of land upon which were very valuable timber lands and in turn, the Indians reserved to themselves the right to fish and in addition, they also reserved a small piece of land that they picked as a reservation at the mouth of the Puyallup river and I would like to point out that the picking of the reservation at the point like many other Indians up and down the coast, they selected that not because of accident, but by necessity.

Now --

Byron R. White:

Could you just -- in the course of stating these facts, say what rights the Indians relinquished?

Arthur Knodel:

Yes, they ceded to the United States Government large --

Byron R. White:

Legally, what right did they relinquish?

Arthur Knodel:

They relinquished their right to be in this particular area --

Byron R. White:

Where did they get that right?

Arthur Knodel:

Well, there has been a war between the Indians and the settlers actually and in consideration of everybody living peacefully and giving up this conflict that had been going on, the Indians agreed that they would step out of this large area of land and relinquish it to the United States and they would go on a red reserve or reservation where the United States would guarantee their peaceful existence and out of this reservation, they could then exercise this particular fishing right.

Byron R. White:

And so the sources of the rights that we're talking about in this case are the Treaties, the rights given them under the treaty?

Arthur Knodel:

This is correct.

Under the Treaty, under this Medicine Creek Treaty, I think too provides that they have the right --

Byron R. White:

Which you might as well say as like the federal statute?

Arthur Knodel:

Yes, it is a federal statute or it's probably more than that if the Worcester versus Georgia case gave the same effect to Indian Treaties as it did to foreign treaties although I realize that we have a little different situation here considered, but it is a genuine Treaty that was executed by the United States Government.

Governor Stevens is a man who engineered it for the United States and the Indians, of course signed it.

President Pierce approved it and Congress, of course, ratified it.

Earl Warren:

But they are aborigines to this area, Mr. --

Arthur Knodel:

Yes, the Puyallupians, as was testified by the State's anthropologist, Doctor Tiller, the Indians were on living in this area, Puyallup area, for 500 hundred years before the Medicine Creek Treaty.

They were using various fishing gear and such.

I think the important provision of the Treaty is the fish, of course, because this is what the Indians were really bargaining for.

This is what they were really working for, hold negotiations with this and the record would show, as testified, the minutes, the Treaty itself shows that the fish were the main item of bargain and the reason it was because these Indians had to have a fish to survive.

Had, this Treaty left out the provision of the right to obtain and abandon the supply of fish, we would not be before this Court because the Indians would've starved to death.