Fish Wars memorial held to commemorate efforts made to secure Tribal treaty fishing rights

Fish Wars memorial held to commemorate efforts made to secure Tribal treaty fishing rights

Originally posted: 09/12/2023

By Molly Bryant, Puyallup Tribal News

The aroma of fire-baked salmon enveloped the Puyallup Canoe Landing site on Saturday, Sept. 9. Elders who witnessed the struggles during the Fish Wars shared their stories at the Fishing Wars Memorial salmon bake as the youth actively listened. The event, a tribute to the past, brought the Puyallup Tribal community together and allowed those in attendance to reflect on the contentious history.

The Fish Wars spanned approximately from the late ‘50s to the mid-’70s. Conflicts arose between Indigenous communities and the United States government regarding fishing rights. The Puyallup Tribe, along with several other Tribes located in the Pacific Northwest, fought to assert their treaty rights to fish in their ancestral waterways. This led to violent times. As Tribal members stood up for their rights, many were arrested and attacked.

Violence between the U.S. government and local Tribes ultimately led to change. After many legal battles, the Boldt decision in 1974 affirmed Treaty Rights. Tribes would then be guaranteed half of the fish harvest.

The Fishing Wars Memorial salmon bake gave Tribal members a platform to speak on the tumultuous history. In addition, attendees were treated to salmon, crab and fresh huckleberry cake. To commemorate the event, attendees were given smoked salmon and a T-shirt.

The event began with a performance of the Love Song, led by Culture Department Assistant Director Clinton McCloud, along with a prayer by Heritage Division Manager Connie McCloud. Photographs documenting the Fishing Wars were on display, serving as powerful reminders of the resilience and strength of those who fought for fishing rights.

Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud was in attendance along with Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Miller and Councilwoman Annette Bryan.

Five Puyallup Tribal members were chosen to witness the event. The witnesses were specially selected because they all came from prominent families who were involved in the Fish Wars. The witnesses were Sitka Firepower DoubleRunner-Earl, Kashina Cook, Hector Dillon, Laura Sterud and Mike Williams.

Additionally, many Tribal members were honored with a blanket at the event, such as Jim Young, Nancy Shippentower, Connie McCloud, Laura Sterud, Linda Earl, Raymond McCloud, William Satiacum as well as many others.

With an open mic platform, Tribal members were given the opportunity to share their stories. Puyallup Tribal member Nancy Shippentower offered her stories related to the Fish Wars and her family’s involvement.

“I think the Fishing Wars started in the late 50s with my grandfather, Andrew,” she said. Shippentower went on to explain how she remembers conflicts between Tribal members and the U.S. government since she was a child. “Did we know the game agents would come and attack our parents or our family or cousins? No, we didn’t know that,” she said.

Tribal elder Ramona Bennett was not in attendance, but she was recorded the day before. She stated, “I’m really thankful that the Tribe has chosen to recognize this day, Sept. 9.” She went on to say, “Congratulations. We exist and we’re very grateful for that.” In closing, she said, “We are one lucky Tribe of Indians because we have these opportunities, and we can’t forget the people that helped us.”

As attendees enjoyed their salmon feast while listening to inspiring stories, it was clear that the Fishing Wars Memorial salmon bake serves as a testament to the enduring strength of the Puyallup people.

Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Quotes:

Chairman Bill Sterud: “There was a time when we couldn’t fish. Our land was stolen. Our families were disrupted. Our kids were taken by DSHS before the Indian Child Welfare Act. There were no jobs even though billions of dollars are being made down here on our property that was stolen from us. Who’d ever believed this story but it was true. But then some heroes stepped forward to push the envelope, to get arrested, to go fishing, and just doing what our treaty allowed and of course it wasn’t easy, getting arrested. You’re taken away from your family, your friends, your children. But that’s what they did.”

Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Miller: “When Bill talks about the history of this Tribe that we all think about there’s nothing, nothing that we’ve ever gotten without a fight. And it’s so good that our people continue this. You individuals being here today shows that you’re not going to let anything happen without a fight.”

Councilwoman Annette Bryan: “I am really grateful for those who fought, for those who got jailed, for those who said, you’re not taking our fishing rights away from us. Even though they knew they were going to get arrested. Because when we fish we feed our families. We come from fisher people.”

Councilman James Rideout (not in attendance): “I want to thank all our elders for achieving the impossible task for the generations before us. I am forever grateful for the teachings that have been taught to us. I want to say thank you to my parents, James Rideout and Gloria Rideout for giving me the tools to provide my family. Today we are tasked with many challenges environmentally, facing seals and sea lions and many other obstacles to overcome to get our fish to come home. We are up to that task and will always serve and protect for the Puyallup Tribe.”

Councilman Fred Dillon: “Let everyone know even though the fight took place 50 years ago, the fight is still going on today. We’re still fighting for our share of salmon and fighting to keep salmon for the next seven generations.”

Councilwomen Anna Bean and Monica Miller were not in attendance but gave their sincerest apologies.