Snoqualmie Tribe petitions U.S. Supreme Court to review hunting and gathering civil rights case

Tribe leaders believe the court decision violates treaty law and creates a dangerous precedent.

The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, a federally recognized Tribe in King County, filed a petition on March 11 asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider its hunting and gathering civil rights case against Governor Jay Inslee and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Tribe is petitioning to overturn a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that denied Snoqualmie’s treaty status and stripped it of its hunting and gathering treaty rights reserved in the Treaty of Point Elliott, despite the fact the United States has repeatedly confirmed the Tribe as a treaty signatory.

“If this outrageous decision stands, all it will take is one federal judge acting with malice to threaten the rights of any Tribe in America,” said Chairman Robert de los Angeles. “This is one of the most dangerous federal cases involving tribal rights in decades, and every Tribe in the country should fear the idea of giving a federal judge the right to unilaterally nullify any Tribal right, anywhere in America.”

In American jurisprudence, treaties are considered the “supreme law of the land”, and the Executive Branch is responsible for their execution, while Congress alone is solely empowered to abrogate treaty terms. No act of Congress has modified the Treaty of Point Elliott, and the U.S. Department of the Interior has repeatedly acknowledged that Snoqualmie is a treaty signatory with treaty rights.

In late August 2021, the Ninth Circuit court refused to recognize Snoqualmie’s treaty rights by relying on a 1979 decision issued when Snoqualmie was unrecognized and landless.

“Just as fourteen representatives of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in order to protect their descendants’ rights, culture, and ancestral lands,” said de los Angeles in a written statement, “so too will our generation of Snoqualmie leaders never surrender the fight to protect the human rights of the next seven generations of our Tribe.”

The case originated from a 2019 decision by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, which unilaterally informed Snoqualmie that it had determined—without consulting Snoqualmie or the United States government — that “the Snoqualmie Tribe does not have off-reservation hunting and fishing rights under the Treaty.”

According to the tribe, WDFW and Governor Jay Inslee refused repeated requests for state officials to stop meddling in a federal issue, forcing the Tribe to sue to obtain relief from harassment from state law enforcement officials.

“This was an unnecessary legal fight that Governor Inslee and WDFW volunteered for and then refused to back down from, despite the state having no material interest in the outcome,” said de los Angeles. “It is sickening that Washington State is wasting taxpayer resources and state employee time trying to prevent a Snoqualmie grandmother from gathering huckleberries, or a Snoqualmie veteran from hunting deer to support his family. It is inconsistent with everything our state stands for, and the values we teach our children.”