When non-Indian settlers arrived, fish runs dwindled. By 1905, Yakama Indians challenged
their access to ancestral fishing grounds at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court declared
salmon as important to Indian tribes as the air they breathe.
Canneries sprang from the landscape. Fishing vessels combed the waters. Dams changed
river flow and blocked fish passage.
Fisheries managers accused Native fishermen of destroying runs with gillnets. Indians
accused whites of overfishing the ocean. The longtime battle reached the U.S. Supreme
Court another six times.
The struggle escalated in the 1960s and landed on the steps of the Washington State
Capitol. Tribal fishermen made their case to the American public with Hollywood
and the media. A landmark court case in 1974 handed the tribes a huge victory. Judge
George Hugo Boldt ruled in U.S. v. Washington that the treaty tribes of Washington
were entitled to up to 50 percent of the harvestable catch. After a fierce backlash,
Indians and non-Indians began to divide and co-manage the resource.
Weir: Native Americans used weirs, much like underwater fences, to trap fish. To
ensure healthy runs, tribes opened the traps at times so schools of salmon could
return home to spawn.
Celilo Falls: At Celilio Falls, skilled tribal fishermen balance on rickety wooden
platforms to spear their fish. The construction of the Dalles Dam buried the ancestral
fishing grounds under water in the 1950s.
Salmon label: The lucrative fishing industry dominated the Northwest, springing
to life in the 19th century. In the 1880s, there were some 39 canneries on the Columbia
River, but the industry “fell into near oblivion” when salmon and steelhead runs
Nets in water: Just after the turn of the 20th century in Ilwaco, Chinook families
come together and fish.
Master of Ceremony Harlan James, known as La-mos, raises the first salmon to return
home from its daring migration. The Lummi Nation hopes to spur strong fish runs
by returning its bones to the waters off the Lummi Peninsula.