State Supreme Court issues confusing ruling in Washington v. Satiacum on treaty fishing rights on July 1, 1957.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 9/07/2000
  • Essay 2650

On July 1, 1957, the Washington Supreme Court issues a ruling in Washington v. Satiacum that upholds the dismissal of convictions for tribal members fishing in violation of state law, but fails to decide Native Americans' treaty fishing rights.

Robert Satiacum (1929-1991) and James Young of the Puyallup tribe had been arrested on November 11, 1954, for using nets to catch salmon and steelhead in the Puyallup River in Tacoma. They were convicted in Pierce County Justice Court of violation of state fishing regulations. They appealed to the Superior Court and on October 20, 1955, their convictions were thrown out because the state had not presented evidence that the regulations being enforced were necessary for the conservation of fish runs. The state appealed to the Supreme Court.

Four members of the court supported treaty fishing rights and four did not, so no decision on the rights issue was reached. The court did sustain the dismissal of the defendants' charges. This case encouraged tribal members to assert their rights, leading to the fish-ins of the 1960s.

Satiacum's attorney in the case was Wing Luke (1925-1965), later Seattle's first Asian city council member.


Washington v. Satiacum, 50 Wn.2d 513; Alexandra Harmon, Indians in the Making (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 229.

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