"With the United States Supreme Court declining to hear the case, a protracted legal battle between two Indigenous communities has nowhere to go."
"Indigenous people and their ancestors have been netting salmon and digging clams in the island-studded Salish Sea for at least 10,000 years. These longtime residents of what are now Washington State and British Columbia—multiple communities represented by dozens of languages and a long, branching, sometimes-overlapping history—forged alliances among families to allot access to the rich fishing grounds. The arrival of Western colonial powers, however, froze those boundaries and undermined the ability of Indigenous peoples to govern those fishing territories and their natural resources.
Snap forward in time, and for the past 30 years two groups, the Lummi Nation and the S’Klallam nations—represented today by the Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribes—have been fighting in the courts about a contested slice of the Salish Sea: the waters west of Whidbey Island in northwestern Washington. Involved in this dizzying dispute are no fewer than four tribes, two treaties, and four appellate court decisions. The issue was recently brought to the United States Supreme Court for consideration, though the court declined to hear the case, leaving the Lummi and S’Klallam without an obvious legal path forward.
Regardless of where it lands, this dispute offers a clear-sighted example of how the modern legal system of the United States struggles to replace the dynamic, multidimensional approach to managing fish and fishing rights that dozens of Indigenous nations sustained among themselves for millennia, without the expensive court fees.
“When I look at cases like this between the Lummi and the S’Klallam,” says Josh Reid, a University of Washington historian and member of the Snohomish Tribe, “this is directly a consequence of settler colonialism.”"