Remembering The Fight For Treaty Rights

Decades after the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ’70s, Puyallup tribal members are still working to protect tribal treaty rights.

At the tribe’s annual Fish Wars remembrance in September, tribal members and activists reflected on the civil disobedience that led to the Boldt decision reaffirming tribal treaty fishing rights.

Puyallup tribal members Dakota Case and Chester Earl spoke just hours after being arrested at a protest against a planned liquefied natural gas plant on the Puyallup Tribe’s reservation. Construction had continued at the plant despite the Puyallup tribal council issuing a Stop Work Order.

“The most amazing part of that night was when I got released at four o’clock in the morning, this elder right here, Ramona Bennett, was sitting outside the jail waiting for us,” Earl said. Bennett is a Puyallup tribal member who was influential in the fishing rights struggle in the 1960s and ’70s.

Earl pointed out that decades earlier Bennett met his mother after she was released from jail after being arrested during a fishing rights protest.

Other speakers described how the struggle for treaty rights impacted families, especially women. Nancy Shippentower-Games, a Puyallup tribal member, recalled a specific 1965 fish-in when state fisheries enforcement officers used violent tactics to arrest women on the Nisqually River.

“There are all these books about these men. I’m looking at these books and there are women in these stories,” Shippentower-Games said. “Our women stood up and were warriors just like the men were.”

Despite the hardships, families pulled together around their children. Tribal communities held dances and salmon bakes to raise money for struggling families. They also provided emotional support for children with parents in jail.

“During the fishing rights struggle I felt so loved, like most of the kids that went through the struggle,” said Roberta Wright-Basch, a Puyallup tribal member. “When you’re going through the trauma, you walk through it. And yeah, part of it was trauma, but the other part was such great love.”

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