Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game the State of Washington (Puyallup III)

433 U.S. 165 (1977)

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Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game the State of Washington (Puyallup III)

United States Supreme Court
433 U.S. 165 (1977)

  • Written by Robert Cane, JD

Facts

In 1854, the governor of the Washington territory negotiated the Treaty of Medicine Creek (treaty) with the Puyallup Indians (defendants) and other nearby tribes. The treaty gave the Puyallups an Indian reservation at the mouth of the Puyallup River. Article II of the treaty provided that on-reservation fishing was exclusively for the Puyallups. Article III of the treaty provided that the Puyallups had the right, which was held in common with the citizens of the territory, to fish off the reservation. Under the terms of the treaty, the Washington territory was not permitted to deny the Puyallups their right to fish at their customary places. In the 1960s, steelhead trout populations neared extinction levels and controversy arose regarding fishing rights in Washington State. State law prohibited net fishing and imposed limits on the number of fish caught. The state began arresting Puyallup members for violations of state law regarding their fishing practices. The Washington State Department of Game (plaintiff) sought a declaration in the Washington superior court that the Puyallups were obligated to obey state laws regarding conservation of fish and sought an injunction to stop the Puyallups’ practice of net fishing. Over a decade of litigation ensued. In the first appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the Court found that the state could not deny the Puyallups their right to fish at their customary fishing grounds but that their fishing rights were not exclusive. The Puyallups fishing rights were subject to reasonable regulation by the state if such regulation was for conservation purposes. In a subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court, the Court held that the Puyallups were not entitled to take an unlimited number of steelhead trout with respect to on-reservation fishing and that the number of steelhead must be fairly apportioned between Indian and non-Indian fishing. Consequently, on remand, the Washington State superior court entered a judgment that directed the Puyallups to report the number of steelhead caught each week to the Department of Game. The Puyallups appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, which affirmed the superior court’s judgment. The Puyallups appealed again to the Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Stevens, J.)

Dissent (Brennan, Marshall, J.J.)

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