This isn’t the first time we’ve divested to protect treaty rights

The Defund DAPL movement continues a long history of tribes joining together to defund corporations threatening their treaty rights.

In the decade following the 1974 Boldt decision, the treaty tribes in western Washington quickly realized their treaty rights would be meaningless without fish. The biggest threat to salmon was the destruction of salmon habitat, so the tribes filed suit against the state of Washington. In the early ’80s a district court judge sided with them, ruling that habitat protection was essential to the tribes’ treaty rights.

That decision sent shock waves through Washington’s business community, spurring the organization of an anti-treaty rights business organization.

From the Seattle Times. May 8, 1981:

(T)he organization, which calls itself the Northwest Water Resources Committee, simultaneously plans to side with the State of Washington in appealing Judge William Orrick’s Boldt II ruling.

The effect of Boldt II already has been felt, (group spokesperson John) Hough added. The City of Seattle decided not to build a dam at Copper Creek on the Skagit River — in part because of the court decision.

So far 16 organizations have contributed about $67,000. The organizations include Weyerhauser, I.T.T., Puget Sound Power & Light, Seattle First National Bank (Sea-First), Intalco Aluminum, Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical and Rainier National Bank.

This negotiate and litigate strategy raised the ire of tribal leaders that had just spent decades litigating their right to fish at all. So, they got to work.

The Colville Confederated Tribes started closing their accounts at Sea-First, which contained an estimated $14 million. A Colville leader said the tribes didn’t want the bank using their money to fight other Indians.

At a national conference in Spokane, Bill Frank Jr., a Nisqually who chairs the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, called on other tribes to boycott corporations  involved in the committee.

One Alaska Native Corporation, threatened to sever ties with Sea-First, putting millions more at risk for the bank. From “Where the Salmon Run:”


At the NCAI meeting in Spokane, someone suggested the NWIFC chairman fly to Anchorage and meet with Cook Inlet Corporation, a Native-owned company and landholder that started in 1970.

During Billy’s presentation in Alaska, someone in the back stood and said, “I move we pull $80 million from Seafirst Bank.” It was seconded and passed unanimously. The plane had yet to touch down in the Northwest when the phone rang.

Mike Berry, president of Seafirst Bank, was desperate. “Before I jump out of the seventeenth floor of the Seafirst Bank in Seattle, I’ve got to sit down and talk with you,” he told Billy when they connected. They agreed to meet at the bank headquarters on 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle.

Billy sat on one side of the table “with all the Indians.” The “good old boys’ club” sat on the other in white shirts and ties. “I want you guys to roll up all of your shirtsleeves,” Billy said. “I want your sleeves up because I don’t want any hidden cards. You have to start moving forward with recognition of the tribes and the treaty in the Northwest, and lay out an agenda we can follow. Recognize this treaty is here to stay, and get away from trying to abrogate it. Be an advocate for us.” The talk opened the discussion to co-management. The bankers agreed to testify against bills proposed by Slade Gorton and Don Bonker to abrogate treaties. Berry would later compare filing the amicus brief to kicking over a hornets’ nest. “Mike Berry was a really decent man,” says Keefe, “who realized they were heading down the wrong road.

Jack Larsen from Weyerhauser took the lead in changing course. He turned out to be a thoughtful and reasonable guy, with no previous anti-treaty baggage. Things started to improve once Billy got a seat at the table, and Jim Waldo found his niche as the go-to guy for keeping folks talking instead of litigating. My feeling was, better late than never.”

Now tribes and non-tribal entities are deciding what to do in reaction to banks’ support of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Muckleshoot Tribe recently voted to cut ties with one of those banks, Wells Fargo. The City of Seattle and other non-tribal governments are also taking a look at their investments.