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Clean Slate For Tribal Fishing Rights Protesters?

Taylor Winkel
Northwest News Network
(Left to right) Billy Frank, a veteran of the fish wars, Hank Adams, a tribal advocate, and Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe confer in Olympia.

Around 40 to 50 years ago, American Indians in Western Washington were repeatedly arrested during protests over treaty fishing rights.

Now, convicted tribal fishermen may gain the opportunity to clear their records of misdemeanors and felonies from before 1975.

The current chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe, Shawn Yanity, was a child at the time. He told state lawmakers in Olympia Tuesday that convictions continue to affect tribal members today when it comes to finding jobs, crossing borders, and qualifying for loans.

“They’re upstanding, great citizens in both tribal and Washington State communities," said Yanity. "That was the only conviction they had. But these are marks against their character.”

If the measure passes the Washington Legislature, an estimated 80 people could qualify to have their records cleared.

Back in 1974, a landmark federal court ruling known as the Boldt Decision guaranteed Puget Sound tribes a share of the salmon harvest. That ended what were known as the “Fish Wars.”