Tacoma Police arrest 60 persons at a fish-in on September 9, 1970.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 8/25/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2625

On September 9, 1970, Tacoma Police arrest 60 persons during a confrontation over Native American rights to fish. When state officers attempt to remove a fishnet set in the river by tribal members, four shots are fired at them. A firebomb then sets fire to a wooden railroad and the police move in with tear gas.

Fifty-five adults and five juveniles were arrested in an encampment that had been established one mile north of Tacoma where Highway 99 crossed the Puyallup River. Police seized firearms and knives and fishing nets, but there were no injuries. Two days later, Tacoma Police Chief Lyle Smith ordered the encampment bulldozed.

The fish-in was in protest of the three-day-a-week fishing season imposed by the state on Native American fishers. Native Americans and their supporters asserted that under the treaties with the U.S. government signed in 1855, they could fish off-reservation without restriction.

A little more than a week later, the Nixon Administration's Justice Department filed suit against the State of Washington on behalf of five (later nine) tribes seeking to remove the state restrictions. The suit resulted in the Boldt Decision (U.S. v. Washington, 384 Fed. Supp.) in February 1974, which granted to the tribes 50 percent of the salmon and steelhead harvest.


"Shots Fired, 60 Arrested in Indian-fishing Showdown," The Seattle Times, September 9, 1970, p. A-1; Jerry Carson, "Indians Face Court Battle Over Puyallup Fishing," Ibid., September 10, 1970, p. B-10; "Puyallup River Indian Camp Destroyed by Bulldozers," Ibid., September 11, 1970, p. E-7; Dee Norton, "Federal Suit Attacks Indian-fishing Laws," Ibid., September 19, 1970, p. A-4.

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