Robert M. de los Angeles
Snoqualmie Indian Tribe Chairman
Welcome to the new Era of Termination.
In August 2021, a Ninth Circuit decision gave federal judges powers over tribes they do not have under the Constitution – the unilateral right to ignore tribal treaty signatories and judicially nullify the reserved hunting and gathering rights of a tribe’s citizens in perpetuity.
This is one of the most dangerous federal cases involving tribal rights in decades, yet the vast majority of tribes are unaware.
If you are a tribal leader, we urge you to engage, and quickly, by learning about Snoqualmie Indian Tribe v. State of Washington. Every tribe in the country should have something to say about it.
Because it’s your rights at stake too.
I am the Chairman of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, a federally recognized tribe whose treaty rights have been unlawfully taken away by the federal courts. And, if it happened to our tribe, it can easily happen to yours.
The decision made in our case set a perilous precedent. If this decision stands, all it will take is one federal judge or an enemy of tribal rights using this decision to try and remove all the rights your ancestors fought to keep.
That is why I am asking you to support our upcoming petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to rein in federal judges who are trying to take over the role of Congress with respect to reserved treaty rights and the authority of the executive branch to manage its sovereign-to-sovereign government relationship with tribes.
Together, we can fight to overturn the precedent and restore Constitutional balance and respect for upholding treaty rights.
How did we get here?
Sadly, our story is not unique among Indian people.
Fourteen of our ancestor leaders signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. However, after signing the treaty, Snoqualmie was denied the reservation it was promised.
The federal government then conveniently deemed us to be a landless tribe during the Termination Era, which the United States then used as an excuse to no longer recognize our status as a sovereign tribe with whom they had signed a treaty. In the 1970s, as our elders fought for federal recognition, they also tried to intervene in the United States v. Washington fishing rights case, only to be told that, because we were unrecognized and landless, we could not have off-reservation fishing rights.
Despite this injustice, my brother, Chief Andy de los Angeles, became well-known for his tireless efforts publicizing and raising money to support the rights of our neighboring tribes and legendary leaders including Billy Frank Jr., Ramona Bennett, and Hank Adams.
After decades of fighting, in 1997 we were finally re-recognized by the United States, with our federal recognition becoming official 22 years ago in October 1999. Since that time, we have fought hard to buy land ourselves to create our own reservation and provide for our people. Through these challenges we remained resilient and we never forgot about the rights our ancestors reserved for us when they signed the treaty.
So, in 2019, when the state of Washington told us that we have no reserved hunting and gathering rights, we did what any tribe would do – file a lawsuit to protect our inherent and treaty-protected sovereign rights.
In order to keep our elders and youth from collecting huckleberries or a Snoqualmie veteran from hunting to support his family, Gov. Jay Inslee and the state of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife have now created a mess for all of Indian Country.
Indian Country is now left with the precedent that a federal judge has the power to unilaterally deny a tribe their treaty-tribe status and the rights included in those treaties … and that those rights can be taken away without congressional action.
If our treaty rights can be simply eliminated by a federal judge, absent any congressional action and contrary to what the executive branch has said, that means any treaty right can be nullified by a federal judge. And, if a treaty, as the supreme law of the land, can simply be unilaterally nullified by any federal judge, then any right reserved by a tribe is left vulnerable and defenseless to future judicial overreach.
In other words, if nothing changes, every textbook on Indian law that states that tribal treaties are “the supreme law of the land” and that they can only be abrogated by an act of Congress will be rewritten.
The Snoqualmie Tribe has no hesitation in asking the Supreme Court to review this poisonous decision, as we have a duty and obligation as Snoqualmie people to our ancestors and future generations to fight against any injustice others attempt to inflict upon us. We will be filing our petition before March 12, 2022.
If tribes nationwide do not speak up and tell the Supreme Court this case needs to be heard so that tribal treaties can remain the supreme law of the land, then this legal precedent will stand. . . and the suffering our tribe has experienced will soon be exported around the country by the enemies of the rights of all tribal nations.
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