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caption: A deer in Mount Rainier National Park.
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A deer in Mount Rainier National Park.

Snoqualmie Tribe's fight to hunt and gather. Now the Supreme Court will weigh in

The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe is in a battle with the state of Washington over hunting and gathering rights. In a recently filed petition, the tribe is asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision that says the tribe is not entitled to hunt off reservation, on open unclaimed land managed by the state.

There are 29 federally-recognized tribes in the state of Washington, and the vast majority have rights that are covered by a variety of treaties, but there is one treaty in particular whose interpretation has been the sticking point for the Snoqualmie people. The Treaty of Point Elliott was signed in 1855, guaranteed hunting and fishing rights, along with land to all Washington-area Tribes that signed on.

Due to a lower court ruling in 1979, the Snoqualmie have been denied the same rights as neighboring tribes like the Suquamish and Muckleshoot, and they want that to change.

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“It is well established in Indian law that only Congress can take away treaty rights,” said the Snoqualmie Tribe’s legal counsel Rob Roy Smith.

Smith argues that Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as the lower courts, have it wrong when they state that Snoqualmie tribe members are not entitled to hunt and gather off of reservation land.

In 2019, the Snoqualmie sued Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife for denying the tribe’s treaty status.

“We know Snoqualmie signed the treaty,” Smith said. “We know those rights have not been taken away by Congress. So that has to be reconciled somehow.”

Fish and Wildlife Policy Director Nate Pamplin says his department is only following the law.

"I would like this to be very clear: the state does not have the authority to establish, to grant, or to take away or abolish tribal treaty rights,” Pamplin said. “We’re prepared to fully abide by the U.S. Supreme Court decision if they accept the case.”

The Snoqualmie expect to hear a response back from the U.S Supreme Court in May of this year.

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