Washington Law Review




On December 26, 1854, the Treaty of Medicine Creek was concluded between the United States and nine western Washington Indian tribes. The Indians ceded to the United States all rights in a large portion of their tribal lands, but reserved the "right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations ... in common with all citizens of the Territory." Whatever the representatives of the United States or the Indian chiefs meant by this clause has been lost in antiquity. It is certain that they could not have foreseen the acrimony or the legal battles that it would cause many years later when the Indians, in circumstances vastly changed from 1854, would invoke it demanding the right to fish free of state regulation. It is equally certain that the Indians could not have conceived that one hundred years later over a million people would populate the Puget Sound Basin, or that fishing would be an important contributor to the economy of those million people. They also could not have conceived that many of the salmon which their descendants now claim the right to catch unrestrictedly would be hatched and released at state hatcheries operated under a state conservation program.

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