Tribal Hunting: A Historic Tradition in the Pacific Northwest
Tribal hunting has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, where indigenous communities in Washington State have practiced hunting, fishing, and gathering for countless generations. This historic way of life has been essential for sustenance, cultural practices, and the gathering of traditional foods and medicinal plants.
Treaty Negotiations and Tribal Rights
The history of tribal hunting in Washington State is intertwined with the treaties negotiated between tribal nations and the United States government. In the mid-1800s, long before Washington became a state, territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, acting on behalf of the United States, negotiated several treaties with indigenous tribes. These treaties included Medicine Creek, Neah Bay, Olympia, Point Elliott, Point No Point, Wala Wala, Yakama, and Nez Perce Nations.
These treaties served a dual purpose: to acquire land for the incoming homesteaders and to establish peaceful coexistence. Tribal engagement during these negotiations was conducted at a Nation-to-Nation level, and the treaties resulted in the creation of reservations exclusively for tribal use. Importantly, the treaties also recognized the tribes' inherent right to hunt, fish, and gather on their traditional lands beyond the reservations.
Treaty Language and Legal Recognition
The Stevens treaties contain language that explicitly reserves the right to hunt, fish, and conduct traditional activities on lands outside the reservations. This language states, "The right of taking fish, at all usual accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with the citizens of the territory…together with the privilege of hunting…on open and unclaimed lands."
It's essential to note that these treaties are considered formal contracts between nations and are recognized as the supreme law of the land by the U.S. Constitution (Supremacy Clause Article VI, paragraph 2).
Tribal Management and Regulation
Today, tribal governments play a crucial role in managing and regulating hunting for their enrolled tribal members, in accordance with the rights reserved in the 1850s treaties. Twenty-four tribes in Washington State have off-reservation hunting rights, which allows them to hunt on lands beyond their reservations.
However, it's important to recognize that not all tribes in Washington have treaties or rights to hunt off their reservations. In such cases, both tribal and state-licensed hunters share the responsibility of hunting game animals across the state. This collaboration requires coordination between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and tribal governments to manage wildlife resources while respecting differences in cultural heritages and legal frameworks.
Active Wildlife Management
Many tribal governments actively participate in the management of wildlife resources. Most tribes with off-reservation hunting rights develop their regulations and management strategies. In recent years, WDFW and various tribes have worked together to develop wildlife management plans and initiatives aimed at rebuilding game populations.
For more detailed information about tribal hunting and the collaboration between tribal governments and WDFW, please visit the Department website. This resource provides insights into the complexities and partnerships involved in the management of wildlife in Washington State.
Honoring the Indigenous People, Land, and Culture of the Pacific Northwest
For countless millennia, the Pacific Northwest has been graced by the presence of Indigenous People, whose diverse cultures, languages, and traditional knowledge have enriched this region. Their intricate principles, passed down through generations, have woven a tapestry of traditions that continue to thrive to this day. As the first stewards of this land, the Indigenous People of what we now call Washington State are deeply rooted in the very essence of this region.
Acknowledging the Ancestral Connection
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recognizes the American Indian Tribes as the original inhabitants of this land, a fact celebrated by all Washingtonians. These Tribes have historically relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering traditional foods, and this deep connection defines their inherent responsibility to safeguard and nurture the precious resources of our waters and landscapes—a duty they share with all residents of Washington.
Resilience Amidst Adversity
The enduring survival of the Pacific Northwest Tribes stands as a testament to their remarkable resilience. Over generations, they have faced and continue to face countless challenges on this very landscape. Their history bears witness to acts of valor, tragic massacres, the denial of religious freedom, systemic racism, the cultural assimilation of Native children in institutional residential schools, and the ardent pursuit of their inherent rights and liberties. Throughout this tumultuous journey marked by colonization, violated treaties, infringed civil rights, and the salmon protests of the 1960s, the Northwest Tribes and WDFW have forged a commitment rooted in respect, unity, and solidarity, as taught by the harsh lessons of the past.
Today, tribal governments and WDFW work hand in hand to conserve and manage aquatic and terrestrial resources across the State. They employ rigorous scientific practices to make informed decisions, ensuring the sustainable management of fish, wildlife, ecosystems, and culture for not just the present but also for the generations to come—upholding the principle of looking seven generations into the future.