OLYMPIA – Native Americans who were arrested and jailed for “off-season” fishing in tribal waters before a federal judge ruled they were within their treaty rights got the legislative version of an apology Wednesday.
A unanimous Senate approved and sent to Gov. Jay Inslee a bill allowing those pre-1975 convictions from what some call the salmon wars to be vacated, wiping away any criminal records from tribal members arrested and jailed for fishing outside seasons set by the state. Native Americans insisted they had treaty rights that allowed them to fish regardless of state rules. In a landmark decision in 1974, U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled they were right and the state was violating their rights. His ruling stood through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the convictions remained on the records of tribal members who were arrested, and state law didn’t provide a good way to expunge them. HB 2080 allows any tribal member with a conviction related to fishing activity prior to the Boldt decision to apply to the sentencing court to have it vacated. For tribal members who have died, family members or the tribe can apply to have convictions vacated posthumously.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill was a chance for the state to apply justice and get the matter behind it.
“Every now and then we get to correct a mistake,” said Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle. “It’s the closest this branch of government can come to an apology.”