Washington state justices void 1916 tribal rights ruling as racist
July 13, 2020
SEATTLE — Washington state’s Supreme Court on Friday vacated a 1916 ruling that allowed a prosecutor to bring criminal charges against a tribal fisherman as racist and unjust.
The justices unanimously said they were compelled to void the decision because “such past opinions can continue to perpetrate injustice by their very existence.” Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, the state’s first Native American justice, read the decision from the bench in Olympia.
The 1916 case concerned Alec Towessnute, a Yakama Nation member arrested after using a gaff hook, a traditional tribal fishing method, near Prosser, about 5 miles outside the reservation. Even though the Yakamas’ treaty with Washington state allowed the tribe to fish in its traditional grounds, including the area where he was fishing, Towessnute was charged with multiple fishing crimes.