Native American Fishing Rights: Digitized in Seattle

Last week, we held our annual Primarily Teaching summer institute at the National Archives at Seattle.  For the workshop, teachers were given the task of researching in original records to find classroom-appropriate documents showing the effects of Lewis and Clark on Modern Native America.  The educators who participated scanned some great documents on the topic, specifically relating to Native American fishing practices in the states of Oregon and Washington.

“Dip-net” fishing was a usual practice employed by Native American tribes in Oregon.
Fisherman at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, Oregon, 1911.  From the Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers.

In the early treaties between the United States and Native American tribes during times of westward expansion, many tribes had signed over their lands but retained exclusive rights to fishing in the waters running through their villages or reservations.

However, American and immigrant settlers, with new technology and fishing equipment, gradually supplanted Native Americans as the main fishing groups on the rivers of the West.  Regulations and fishing restrictions further limited the rights of Native American tribes, and made it nearly impossible for their members to make a living as commercial fishermen.

In this testimony, Harold George describes how Boldt’s fishing rights affect his livelihood.  Affidavit of Harold George, 7/14/1976. From the Records of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In his testimony, Harold George described how Boldt’s fishing rights affected his livelihood.
Page 1 of Affidavit of Harold George, 7/14/1976. From the Records of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A campaign to reassert fishing rights for local tribes sprang up in the 1960s by way of “fish-ins” and written protests, and continued until the issue was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.  In 1974, Federal Judge George Boldt pronounced the ruling (U.S. v. Washington) to reaffirm the rights of Native American tribes in western Washington to fish and manage fisheries on their accustomed grounds.  A similar case from 1969, U.S. v. Oregon, had provided for the enforcement of rights for those tribes living in the state of Oregon.

Because of the Primarily Teaching educators’ hard work, with assistance from National Archives staff and volunteers, documents on western Native American tribes and their fishing policies have been scanned and uploaded to DocsTeach—our online tool for teaching with documents—for anyone looking into the topic.

Seattle is one of the last locations hosting Primarily Teaching this summer.  Each of the workshops focuses on a specific case study, which then fits into the National History Day theme for 2016,Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History.” 

Thanks to the effort of the teachers in Seattle, 20 documents on the effects of Lewis and Clark on Modern Native America have been digitized and can now be accessed and used for teaching and classroom activities!

Primarily Teaching is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation, through the support of Texas Instruments and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

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