Courtesy of Snoqualmie Tribe

Courtesy of Snoqualmie Tribe

Snoqualmie Tribe receives support from national tribal law experts in case regarding treaty rights

Tribe Chairman says the case may be “the most important Tribal Supreme Court case of our generation.”

The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, a federally recognized tribe in King County, has received support from a diverse nationwide coalition of experts and authorities as it seeks to protect hunting and gathering rights that were challenged by the Washington state government.

In Snoqualmie v. State of Washington, the tribe asked the federal judiciary to require Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to recognize the Snoqualmie Tribe’s hunting and gathering rights, which the tribe claims are protected by the terms of the Treaty of Point Elliott, which the tribe signed in 1855.

The U.S. federal government recognizes the Snoqualmie Tribe as a treaty signatory. The Inslee Administration has interpreted decades-old verdicts during a time period when the Snoqualmie Tribe was not recognized by the federal government as rationale for keeping the tribe from exercising its rights that they believe were guaranteed in the treaty.

A spokesperson from the Snoqualmie Tribe says the tribe has had its status as a federally recognized tribe and treaty signatory for decades.

On March 11, 2022 the Snoqualmie Tribe filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its treaty hunting and gathering civil rights case.

As part of the Snoqualmie Tribe’s fight to have its rights to hunt and gather recognized by Washington state, the tribe secured three extensive amicus curiae briefs of support from expert tribal law authorities from around the country.

Amicus curiae, Latin for “friend of the court,” are when a person or group who is not a party to an legal action, but has a strong interest in the matter, will petition the court for permission to submit a brief with the intent of influencing the court’s decision, according to Cornell Law School.

“Snoqualmie v. State of Washington could be the most important Tribal Supreme Court case of our generation, a fact which is proven by the unprecedented support our case has received from around the country,” wrote Snoqualmie Tribal Chairman Robert de los Angeles. “Our Tribe is fighting for the rights our ancestors made sacrifices to protect for us, their descendants, by signing the Treaty of Point Elliott.”

Chairman de los Angeles also said that the Snoqualmie people have hunted and gathered in their ancestral lands since “time immemorial,” and that the case is about preventing state governments and federal courts from being able to unilaterally decide to ignore treaty rights.

“The Snoqualmie Tribe will never surrender in its fight to exercise our traditional practices, free from government harassment and oppression,” he wrote in a statement.

The supporters include leading tribal and civil legal scholars, a leading tribal enterprise, and other tribal nations. As the vast majority of petitions to the Supreme Court are filed without any amicus curiae briefs in support, spokespersons from the Snoqualmie Tribe are calling the filing of three separate briefs from three separate legal perspectives in support of Snoqualmie’s case a “historic demonstration of the support for the Tribe’s fight for its hunting and gathering rights.”

Amicus curiae briefs were filed by the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, former victorious Supreme Court litigant and leading tribal enterprise Cougar Den Inc., as well as a large coalition of legal scholars led by Professor Robert A. Williams, faculty co-chair of the University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program.

Professor Williams’ brief was co-signed by leading legal and policy scholars including Professor Ezra Rosser American University, Professor Vickie Sutton Texas Tech University, Professor Jo Carrillo University of California Hasting Law, Associate Clinical Professor Heather Whiteman Runs Him University of Arizona, and the Center for Indian Law and Policy at Seattle University.

“This decision is not only immensely important to the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe but to all of Indian Country and it is imperative to get it right,” wrote one of the brief’s co-signers Vickie Sutton.

Amicus curiae-filer Cougar Den Inc., successfully defeated the State of Washington in another landmark Supreme Court case in 2019. Cougar Den Inc., a tribal fuel distributor owned and operated by the Ramsey family for the last 28 years, was sued by the state of Washington in Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den Inc.

Cougar Den successfully argued to the Supreme Court their interpretation of specific sections in the Yakama Nation Treaty of 1855, and the justices agreed 5-4 upholding their treaty rights.

“As Indigenous People, our actions today breathe life into the preserved promises and cultures secured by our ancestors,” said Cougar Den President “Punia” Kip Richard Ramsey. “It is our duty to protect the rights preserved in our treaties at all costs and it is our privilege to stand with all indigenous nations in their fights to protect their sovereignty and the treaty promises preserved by their ancestors. Any step otherwise perpetuates the legacy of broken treaties.”

The third amicus brief was written by Robert A. Williams Jr. a renowned Indian law professor, acclaimed author, and faculty chair of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program at the University of Arizona. Professor Williams was joined by law professors from across the country, urging the high court to hear the case.

In the brief, Professor Williams argues why the Ninth Circuit justices faltered in using the doctrine of issue preclusion against the Snoqualmie Tribe’s hunting and gathering reserved treaty rights.

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