Rights of the Yakamas

Yakama Nations Fisheries Project

Researching family history in 100 year old newspapers, I was moved by the singular voice — and logic — of Louis Mann of the Yakama Nation, 100 years ago, in his letter to the editor of the Yakima Republic (May 14, 1915). My great grandfather, Henry Joseph Snively, on at least one occasion pressed the legal defense of Yakama fishing rights around the turn of the century:

“I am giving you this, my poor writing, which I wish you to give place in your paper: In the treaty of 1855 with the Yakimas, article 3 as follows, ‘The exclusive right of taking fish in all the streams running through or bordering said reservation is further secured to said confederated tribes and bands of Indians, as also the right of taking fish at all accustomed places, in common with the citizens of the territory, and of erecting temporary buildings for curing them, together with the privilege of hunting, gathering roots and berries, and pasturing their horses and cattle upon open and unclaimed land.’

A few days ago I went to the Sunnyside dam to catch salmon, within my rights, for food for my family, and a man was there who ordered me from there, saying that I would be arrested; and he asked me to read the notice placed there by a game commissioner, threatening arrest for anybody fishing there within 400 feet of the dam. I told him that my fishing privileges did not interfere with the law and that our treaty permitted and guaranteed that the red man had the EXCLUSIVE right to take fish from all streams running through or bordering our reservation; and that no white man had a right to fish where I was fishing or anywhere along the Yakima river along our reservation. This white man is guarding our fish from us.

This reminds me that one time about 30 years ago Indians had a fish trap below Union Gap… and some white men were ordered to burst these traps of the Indians; and these men came there with guns and shot at the Indians without warning and Sam Wynaco, now an old man was was wounded with a bullet. He recovered and is still living and can testify to this truth I am writing, that the white man destroyed the fish trap of these poor Indians who were taking their own fish in their own river and were not bothering any white people. This stream belongs to the Indians to fish.

I remember one time in 1889 the Indians had a fish trap in Tieton river and the county sheriff came and destroyed this trap, which was being worked by Chief We-Yallup Way-cika now an old man, who was not allowed to take these fish according to the treaty. He will tell of this as I am writing this truth, which does not make the white man ashamed of these wrongs…

I know Indians who have been ordered out from the berry patches where the white man has sheep. The range rider stated that he would kill their horses if they did not tie them up and not let them run loose on the grass where the sheep wanted the grass. I ask the white man if this is right?

I am wondering if the white people ever think of these wrongs, which they are heaping upon us poor people, who only want the rights given them in the treaty. Maybe they do not think of this, but we Indians are forced to believe that they, the white men, know that they are doing wrong. He is no fool. He only wants all the earth and everything on it. I read and I understand some things. I have two big books in my house written by the white man. One gives the Indian treaties and one gives the law. I read this treaty, made at Walla Walla in 1855, and I wish that the officers of the law would read this treaty, or if they cannot read, get some one to read it for them, and then they will be able to know what is right. Then they will know that the Indian is not trying to rob him of his rights, but is only wanting to be let alone in his rights to fish and hunt and pick berries as agreed in the treaty.

I read that in the country across the sea there is a terrible war where many people are killed and the country is being destroyed. I read that this war is fought because one big, strong nation would not regard as a treaty with a smaller nation, and they said that this treaty with the little nation was “only a scrap of paper,” and they disregarded this treaty. I see in the paper that the American white man says that this was not right for the strong German nation to trample on this treaty with the weak Belgian nation. But these same white Americans do not think that it is wrong for them, who are strong, to trample on the treaty which they made with the Yakimas, who were weak and depended on the promises made in this treaty. You say that you want us to become civilized and be good citizens like a white man. If the white man’s way is being good by disregarding his written promises in the treaty, then this Indian does not want to follow his ways. I prefer being a “bad Injun,” who tells the truth and does not tell a lie knowingly, than to be a “good white man,” who never keeps his word and promises made in writing and witnessed by the law. I wish that the Republic Paper, which has been friendly and lets us tell our wrongs in its pages, would print big bills giving the third article of our treaty which I have written about, and post them where these officials can see them and get a good honest white man to read and explain these posters to them so they will know not to bother and molest the Indians who are fishing within their rights. I am wondering what these officials, called game commissioners, would do if we shoot at them and destroy their property and keep them from getting food for their families? We would get in jail and have trouble, but this is what the white man does and he is protected. I wish that the state lawmakers would not let any white man be a game commissioner who cannot read. And if he can read make him be honest with the Indians in their treaty rights. This is all that I will say.

Louis Mann”



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