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Lawsuit Seeks to Wrest Control of Lake Quinault from Tribe

A lawsuit filed by two property owners claims that the Quinault Indian Tribe does not have jurisdiction over Lake Quinault.
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The Quinault Indian Nation is dismissing a lawsuit’s assertion that the tribe does not have legal control over the use of Lake Quinault and hopes that U.S. District Court in Tacoma will do the same.

“Lake Quinault is undisputedly within the Quinault Indian Reservation,” the tribe said in a statement quoted by the Aberdeen, Washington Daily World in the wake of a lawsuit filed by two property owners. “The Nation intends to vigorously defend this meritless lawsuit.”

The suit, filed on December 30, 2014 by North Quinault Properties LLC and Thomas and Beatrice Landreth, alleges that the Quinault Indian Tribe’s suspension of non-tribal use privileges due to habitat degradation was an overstepping of privileges.

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“Through this civil action, the Plaintiffs seek court determination as to the status of Lake Quinault and the property rights of non-tribal property owners abutting the Lake and court determination as to the public’s right to access of the Lake, its shore and lakebed,” the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs believe that the state should regulate usage and contends that the tribe in fact does not have jurisdiction, alleging that giving the Quinault control violates the Equal Footing Doctrine and the Public Trust Doctrine, which preserves navigable waters for public use, plaintiffs’ attorney Elizabeth Thompson said. Washington State’s entry into the U.S. in 1889 assured it “equal footing” in the use of public waterways, the Daily World said.

The tribe countered by quoting Article 2 of the 1855 Treaty of Olympia, which states that “there shall be reserved, for the use an occupation of the tribes, a tract of land sufficient for their wants … to be selected by the President of the United States… and no white man shall be permitted to reside thereon without permission of the tribe,” the Daily World said.

The Quinault’s arguments are buttressed by a legal opinion handed down in 2009 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, saying that “President Ulysses S. Grant’s original presidential proclamation on the formation of the Quinault reservation in effect allowed them to control the lake to use it for fishing and to sustain their livelihood as a people,” the Daily World reported.

The case is pending.