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Indian & Tribal Law

Resources for researching federal Indian law and Native American tribal law.

Introduction to United States v. Washington

Treaties with tribes in the Pacific Northwest reserved their right to fish. E.g., the Treaty of Point Elliott (Jan. 22, 1855), provided:

Article 5. The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory, and of erecting temporary houses for the purpose of curing, together with the privilege of hunting and gathering roots and berries on open and unclaimed lands. Provided, however, That they shall not take shell-fish from any beds staked or cultivated by citizens.

But by the 1950s and 1960s, there were conflicts between commercial fishing interests and Natives. The state enforced fishing regulations against tribal members. After protests on the Puyallup River, in September 1970 the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington filed a suit against the state of Washington on behalf of the United States and as trustee for seven tribes. Other tribes intervened, the State Department of Fisheries and the State Game Commission, and the Washington Reef Net Owners Association were included as defendants.

The judge assigned to the case was George Boldt, who issued his first decision on Feb. 12, 1974. The decision gave the tribes who were parties to the treaties the right to half the catch, with the tribes and the state managing the fishery together. Even though a judge issues hundreds or thousands of rulings in a career, this case became known to the public as the Boldt decision.

The district court retains jurisdiction over disputes arising in the case. 

Agencies

Judge Boldt's initial ruling required the state and the tribes to manage the fishery together.

Opinions in United States v. Washington

"We cannot think of a more comprehensive and complex case than this."

United States v. Washington has generated many published opinions, from the district court, the Ninth Circuit, and even the Supreme Court.

Over 30 years ago, Judge Eugene Wright remarked, "We cannot think of a more comprehensive and complex case than this. Since 1974, there have been numerous supplemental proceedings with voluminous filings. In the proceedings below, this was one of 14 sub-proceedings and over 11,000 papers had been filed with the district court." United States v. Washington, 901 F.2d 772, 775 (9th Cir. 1990). And the case has continued to generate filings since then.

Most of the links below are to the Caselaw Access Project, since many readers of this guide might not have access to premium online databases. For each case, CAP has both a text version and a PDF (with copyrighted headnotes redacted). There are also links to other public sources, such as Google Scholar and the Supreme Court's website.

1970s

1980s

1990s

2000s

2010s

2020s

Other Fishing Rights Cases in Washington

1900s

1910s

1930s

1940s

1950s

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s

Dockets

United States v. Washington  began before electronic case filing. The court has posted PDFs of early docket entries:

See Special Case Notices (W.D. Wash.) (scroll to the bottom for United States v. Washington).

Archives

National Archives logo

The National Archives at Seattle holds federal district court records—but not for United States v. Washington, since the case is still open. It does have court records for earlier fishing rights cases.

Related records:


Washington State Historical Society logo

The Washington State Historical Society (Washington State History Museum, in Tacoma) has a collection of Judge Boldt's papers, including 11 boxes of material from United States v. Washington, described in this finding aid.


UW Libraries logo

University of Washington Libraries Special Collections

The University Libraries' manuscripts and archival collections include many materials related to United States v. Washington, including those listed below. For more, search Archives West, which includes other Northwest libraries as well as the UW.

Other Unpublished Material in the University Libraries

Selected Books About United States v. Washington & Related Topics

Videos

The Boldt Decision (1976)

researcher/writers, Lucille Fuller, Richard Carter, Carol Ovens ; producer/director, Steve Welch ; [produced in cooperation with] Institute of Governmental Research of the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington ; KCTS 1976 Seattle, Wash. : KCTS

Boldt Decision Memoir: Billy Frank Jr. and UW Professor Richard Whitney (2013)

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission chairman Billy Frank Jr. sits down with UW Professor Richard Whitney to reminisce about their involvement with tribal treaty rights and the Boldt decision in the 1970s and 1980s. Whitney was the fisheries technical advisor to federal Judge George Boldt, whose opinion in U.S. v. Washington upheld tribal treaty fishing rights for treaties in Western Washington.

Salmon Defense and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission have posted a collection of videos on the Internet Archive, including 9 videos from Boldt 40, an event held Feb. 5, 2014.

screen snip video thumbnails on Internet Archive

Selected Law Review Articles

The literature about United States v. Washington (and Northwest Indian fishing rights more broadly) is vast. This selective list will grow. 

One step was searching the UW Law Digital Commons for articles in UW Law journals or published by UW Law faculty, so the list is has a large UW representation.

Articles are in alphabetical order by last name.

Links are often to free sites. HeinOnline is a licensed database available throughout the University of Washington (and in many other universities' libraries).

A

  • Jason W. Anderson, Comment, The World Is Their Oyster? Interpreting the Scope of Native American Off-Reservation Shellfish Rights in Washington State, 23 Seattle U. L. Rev. 145 (1999), [Seattle U Digital Commons]
  • Robert T. Anderson, Federal Treaty and Trust Obligations, and Ocean Acidification, 6 Wash. J. Envtl. L. & Pol'y 473 (2016), [UW Law Digital Commons]

B

  • Jacqueline M. Bertelsen, "Fed" up with Acidification: "Trusting" the Federal Government to Protect the Tulalip Tribes' Access to Shellfish Beds, 6 Wash. Env't L. & Pol'y 495 (2016), [UW Law Digital Commons]
  • Michael C. Blumm, Indian Treaty Rights and the Environment: Affirming the Right to Habitat Protection and Restoration, 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1  (2017), [UW Law Digital Commons]
  • Michael C. Blumm, Hydropower vs. Salmon: The Struggle of the Pacific Northwest's Anadromous Fish Resources for a Peaceful Coexistence with the Federal Columbia River Power System, 11 Env't L. 211 (1981), [HeinOnline]
  • Michael C. Blumm & Brett M. Swift, Indian Treaty Piscary Profit and Habitat Protection in the Pacific Northwest: A Property Rights Approach, 69 U. Colo. L. Rev. 407 (1998), [HeinOnline]
  • Karol de Zwager Brown, Symposium, Truce in the Salmon War: Alternatives for the Pacific Salmon Treaty, 74 Wash. L. Rev. 605 (1999), [UW Law Digital Commons]

C

  • Cloie M. Chapman, Student Article, Fighting on Behalf of the Salish Sea, 8 Am. Indian L.J. 127 (2019), [Seattle U Digital Commons]
  • Judith W. Constans, Recent Developments, The Environmental Right to Habitat Protection: A Sohappy Solution—United States v. Washington, 759 F.2d 1353 9th Cir.), cert. denied, 106 S. Ct. 407 (1985), 61 Wash. L. Rev. 731 (1986) [UW Law Digital Commons]

D

  • Richard Du Bey, Andrew S. Fuller & Emily Miner, Tribal Treaty Rights and Natural Resource Protection: The Next Chapter United States v. Washington - The Culverts Case, 7 Am. Indian L.J. 53 (2019), [Seattle U Digital Commons]

F

  • Richard A. Finnigan, Comment, Indian Treaty Analysis and Off-Reservation Fishing Rights: A Case Study, 51 Wash. L. Rev. 61 (1975), [UW Law Digital Commons]

G

  • Thomas C. Galligan, Jr. & Michael T. Reynvaan, Comment, Pacific Northwest Indian Treaty Fishing Rights, 5 Seattle U. L. Rev. 99 (1981), [Seattle U Digital Commons]
  • David H. Getches, Dedication to Professor Ralph W. Johnson, 72 Wash. L. Rev. 995 (1997), [UW Law Digital Commons] (discussing Judge Boldt's reliance on a 1972 article by Johnson)

H

  • Lindsay Halm, Notes and Comments, Putting Flesh on the Bones of United States v. Winans: Private Party Liability under Treaties That Reserve Actual Fish for the Tribal Taking, 79 Wash. L. Rev. 1181 (2004), [UW Law Digital Commons]

J

  • James T. Johnson, Comment, Treaty Fishing Rights and Indian Participation in International Fisheries Management, 77 Denv. U. L. Rev. 403 (1999), [HeinOnline]
  • Ralph W. Johnson, The States Versus Indian Off-Reservation Fishing: A United States Supreme Court Error, 47 Wash. L. Rev. 207 (1972), [UW Law Digital Commons] (discussing Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game, 391 U.S. 392 (1968)) (article cited by Judge Boldt)

K

  • Lillian Kaide, Student Article, A Wholistic, Environmental Approach to Washington’s Repair Methodology of its State-Road Culverts, 6 Seattle J. Env't L. 107 (2016), [Seattle U Digital Commons]

M

  • Bennet A. McConaughy, Recent Developments, The Interaction of Federal Equitable Remedies with State Sovereignty—Puget Sound Gillnetters Association v. Moos, 88 Wn. 2d 677, 565 P.2d 1151 (1977), 53 Wash. L. Rev. 787 (1978), [UW Law Digital Commons]

N

  • Bradley I. Nye, Comment, Where Do the Buffalo Roam? Determining the Scope of American Indian Off-Reservation Hunting Rights in the Pacific Northwest, 67 Wash. L. Rev. 175 (1992), [UW Law Digital Commons]

O

  • Andrea G. Oakley, Note, Not on Claims Alone: Determining Indian Title to Intertidal Lands—United States v. Aam, 887 F.2d 190 (9th Cir. 1989), 65 Wash. L. Rev. 713 (1990), [UW Law Digital Commons]
  • Catherine A. O'Neill, Fishable Waters, 2 Am. Indian L.J. 181 (2017), [Seattle U Digital Commons]

P

  • David P. Papiez, Note, Conservation Easements: A Flexible New Tool for Washington Tribes, A Case Study of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, 6 Am. Indian L.J. 325 (2017), [Seattle U Digital Commons]
  • Kenneth E. Petty, Comment, Accommodation of Indian Treaty Rights in an International Fishery: An International Problem Begging for an International Solution, 54 Wash. L. Rev. 403 (1979), [UW Law Digital Commons]

R

  • William H. Rodgers, Jr., Judicial Regrets and the Case of the Cushman Dam, 35 Envtl. L. 397 (2005), [UW Law Digital Commons]

S

  • Allen H. Sanders, The Northwest Power Act and Reserved Tribal Rights, 58 Wash. L. Rev. 357 (1983), [UW Law Digital Commons]
  • Thomas P. Schlosser, Dewatering Trust Responsibility: The New Klamath River Hydroelectric and Restoration Agreements, 1 Wash. J. Env't L. & Pol'y 42 (2011), [UW Law Digital Commons]
  • Kristi Stanton, Comment, A Call for Co-Management: Treaty Fishing Allocation in New Zealand and Western Washington, 11 Pac. Rim L & Pol'y J. 745 (2002), [UW Law Digital Commons]

T

  • Zachary Tomlinson, Note, Abrogation or Regulation? How Anderson v. Evans Discards the Makah's Treaty Whaling Right in the Name of Conservation Necessity, 78 Wash. L. Rev. 1101 (2003), [UW Law Digital Commons]

V

  • George William Van Cleve, Saving the Puget Sound Wild Salmon Fishery, 2 Seattle J. Env't L. 85 (2012), [Seattle U Digital Commons]

W

  • Sims G. Weymuller, Comment, Phoenix from the Ashes—The 1999 Pacific Salmon Agreement, 10 Pac. Rim L & Pol'y J. 815 (2001), [UW Law Digital Commons]
  • Ron J. Whitener, The Personal Impact of the Boldt Case: A Tribute to Professor William H. Rodgers, Jr., 82 Wash. L. Rev. 497 (2007), [UW Law Digital Commons]
  • Charles F. Wilkinson, The Northwest Indian Fishing Decisions: Luminous Events in Ninth Circuit History, 14 W. Legal Hist. 19 (2001), [HeinOnline]
  • Charles F. Wilkinson, The Belloni Decision: A Foundation for the Northwest Fisheries Cases, the National Tribal Sovereignty Movement, and an Understanding of the Rule of Law, 50 Env't L. 331 (2020), [HeinOnline]
  • Charles F. Wilkinson, The Law of the Pacific Salmon Fishery: Conservation and Allocation of a Transboundary Common Property Resource, 32 U. Kan. L. Rev. 17 (1983), [HeinOnline]

 

Dissertations & Theses

United States v. Washington has been studied by scholars from many fields. Here is a selected list of works. Links in the first group are to ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Dissertations, Theses, and Student Papers Available in University Libraries

Most are by University of Washington students. Many of the UW Law papers were written for Prof. Ralph W. Johnson seminar.