We’ve been hearing a lot about Abraham Lincoln in recent months after the release of the movie about how he abolished slavery by pushing the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution through Congress.

Not many people know it, but Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12 also holds a special place in the hearts of the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington.

It was on that day in 1974 that federal Judge George Boldt handed down his landmark ruling in U.S. v. Washington that upheld our treaty-reserved fishing rights and established us as co-managers of the salmon resource.

Although he was ready to rule sooner, Judge Boldt purposely delayed the court proceedings so that he could deliver his decision on the birthday of one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had, a president who upheld the basic human rights of all people. And that’s what Judge Boldt did. He upheld our rights, and for that we will always be grateful.

It’s been 39 years now since Boldt’s decision, and things have changed a lot since then.

  • More than 1 million people have moved into western Washington, making a big impact on our natural resources.
  • Herring populations in Puget Sound – an important food for salmon – have shrunk to a small fraction of former levels.
  • Our floods and droughts have gotten worse because of climate change and changes we’ve made to our landscape.
  • We’ve lost nearly all of our old-growth forests, native prairies and salt marshes.


We’ve also lost most of our salmon harvest. Ongoing damage and destruction to salmon habitat have led to tribal harvest levels that are lower than they were in 1974, and this trend isn’t showing signs of improvement.

Nonetheless, we are hopeful as we begin planning for the 40th anniversary of the Boldt decision next year.

As part of the celebration, a pair of movies that focus on the treaty fishing rights struggle were recently released by our friends at Salmon Defense, a non-profit organization working to turn the tide for salmon.

The first is “As Long as the Rivers Run,” the fundamental documentary about the Fish Wars of the 1960s and 70s by Carol Burns and Hank Adams. They generously donated the film to Salmon Defense so that it can be preserved and shared. The second movie is “Back to the River,” which was produced by Salmon Defense to provide additional perspectives on treaty rights and the natural resources management challenges we face today.

Both of these movies are available for free by contacting Salmon Defense at salmondefense.org or by calling (360) 528-4308.


Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. 

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.