“Powerful film:” Viewers respond to FISH WAR documentary

At the height of the Fish Wars, the civil rights of the region’s first inhabitants were violated with clubbings, tear gas, arrests and confiscation of fishing gear—all in disregard of the treaty rights their ancestors secured during the formation of the United States.

Footage from that painful era is threaded with stories told by the children and grandchildren of some of those harmed during altercations, and a few tribal elders who were there themselves during the action, in FISH WAR, a documentary produced by Northwest Treaty Tribes Media and North Forty Productions.

NWIFC Chairman Ed Johnstone, second from left, and NWIFC Executive Director Justin Parker, third from left, spoke after the world premiere of FISH WAR at Seattle’s SIFF Cinema Uptown.

The film was introduced to theater audiences for the first time in May, for a world premiere and a second showing at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Seating sold out for both shows at the SIFF Cinema Uptown.

“In western Washington, the treaty tribes, we’re still here,” said Ed Johnstone, NWIFC chairman, during a question-and-answer session at the conclusion of the premiere. “This is the story of our lives. It’s an emotional journey.”

The not-too-distant history of the Fish Wars isn’t widely known or understood among current residents of Washington state. One viewer at the FISH WAR premiere said they were astonished not to have known the truth sooner.

“It’s a tough story, but it’s a story that needs to be told,” said Justin Parker, NWIFC executive director. “We need to continue to educate people.”

While a ruling by federal Judge George Boldt in 1974 helped bring the Fish Wars between the state and tribes in western Washington to a close, various battles have since continued; issues with racism, development and climate change among them.

FISH WAR sheds light on those issues and the ways treaty tribes continue to fight for their treaty-protected right to access salmon.

“The wisdom of Native People sings loud and clear in this powerful film,” SIFF viewer Fred Young said, quoting a scene with Puyallup elder Ramona Bennett, who said: “None of this belongs to us. It all belongs to future generations.”

Stories told by Bennett and others reached home viewers for the first time in May as well, while SIFF offered a high-demand streaming option.

“Awesome film! Thank you for the work you are doing and sharing the story through media like this! My whole family was captivated from start to finish,” viewer Jon Turk wrote online after seeing the production.

Watch the trailer and subscribe for updates about where to see the film next at fishwarmovie.com.

Above: A clause from a treaty between tribes and the United States appears on screen as an audience settles in for the world premiere of FISH WAR on May 11, 2024, in Seattle. Photos and story by Kimberly Cauvel. 

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