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Solicitor General Hoyt for appellants.
[198 U.S. 371, 375] Messrs. Charles H. Carey, F. P. Mays, and Huntington & Wilson for appellees.
Mr. Justice McKenna delivered the opinion of the court:
This suit was brought to enjoin the respondents from obstructing certain Indians of the Yakima Nation, in the state of Washington, from exercising fishing rights and privileges on the Columbia river, in that state, claimed under the provisions of the treaty between the United States and the Indians, made in 1859
There is no substantial dispute of facts, or none that is important to our inquiry.
The treaty is as follows:
At the time the treaty was made the fishing places were part of the Indian country, subject to the occupancy of the Indians, with all the rights such occupancy gave. The object of the treaty was to limit the occupancy to certain lands, and to define rights outside of them.
The pivot of the controversy is the construction of the second pagagraph. Respondents contend that the words 'the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed places in common with the citizens of the territory' confer only such rights as a white man would have under the conditions of ownership of the lands bordering on the river, and under the laws of the state, and, such being the rights conferred, the respondents further contend that they have the power to exclude the Indians from the river by reason of such ownership. Before filing their answer respondents demurred to the bill. The court overruled the demurrer, holding that the bill stated facts sufficient to show that the Indians were excluded from the exercise of the rights given them by the treaty. The court further found, however, that it would 'not be justified in issuing process to compel the defendants to permit the Indians to make a camping ground of their property while engaged in fishing.' 73 Fed. 72. The injunction that had been granted upon the filing of the bill was modified by stipulation in accordance with the view of the court.
Testimony was taken on the issues made by the bill and answer, and upon the submission of the case the bill was dismissed, the court applying the doctrine expressed by it in United States v. Alaska Packers' Asso. 79 Fed. 152; United States v. The James G. Swan, 50 Fed. 108, expressing its views as follows: [198 U.S. 371, 380] 'After the ruling on the demurrer the only issue left for determination in this case is as to whether the defendants have interfered or threatened to interfere with the rights of the Indians to share in the common right of the public of taking fish from the Columbia river and I have given careful consideration to the testimony bearing upon this question. I find from the evidence that the defendants have excluded the Indians from their own lands, to which a perfect, absolute title has been acquired from the United States government by patents, and they have more than once instituted legal proceedings against the Indians for trespassing, and the defendants have placed in the river in front of their lands fishing wheels for which licenses were granted to them by the state of Washington, and they claim the right to operate these fishing wheels, which necessitates the exclusive possession of the space occupied by the wheels. Otherwise the defendants have not molested the Indians nor threatened to do so. The Indians are at the present time on an equal footing with the citizens of the United States who have not acquired exclusive proprietary rights, and this it seems to me is all that they can legally demand with respect to fishing privileges in waters outside the limits of Indian reservations under the terms of their treaty with the United States.'
The remarks of the court clearly stated the issue and the grounds of decision. The contention of the respondents was sustained. In other words, it was decided that the Indians acquired no rights but what any inhabitant of the territory or state would have. Indeed, acquired no rights but such as they would have without the treaty. This is certainly an impotent outcome to negotiations and a convention which seemed to promise more, and give the word of the nation for more. And we have said we will construe a treaty with the Indians as 'that unlettered people' understood it, and 'as justice and reason demand, in all cases where power is exerted by the strong over those to whom they owe care and protection,' and counterpoise the inequality 'by the superior justice [198 U.S. 371, 381] which looks only to the substance of the right, without regard to technical rules.' [Choctaw Nation v. United States] 119 U.S. 1 , 30 L. ed. 306, 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 75; [Jones v. Meehan] 175 U.S. 1 , 44 L. ed. 49, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1. How the treaty in question was understood may be gathered from the circumstances.
The right to resort to the fishing places in controversy was a part of larger rights possessed by the Indians, upon the exercise of which there was not a shadow of impediment, and which were not much less necessary to the existence of the Indians than the atmosphere they breathed. New conditions came into existence, to which those rights had to be accommodated. Only a limitation of them, however, was necessary and intended, not a taking away. In other words, the treaty was not a grant of rights to the Indians, but a grant of right from them,-a reservation of those not granted. And the form of the instrument and its language was adapted to that purpose. Reservations were not of particluar parcels of land, and could not be expressed in deeds, as dealings between private individuals. The reservations were in large areas of territory, and the negotiations were with the tribe. They reserved rights, however, to every individual Indian, as though named therein. They imposed a servitude upon every piece of land as though described therein. There was an exclusive right of fishing reserved within certain boundaries. There was a right outside of those boundaries reserved 'in common with citizens of the territory.' As a mere right, it was not exclusive in the Indians. Citizens might share it, but the Indians were secured in its enjoyment by a special provision of means for its exercise. They were given 'the right of taking fish at all usual and assustomed places,' and the right 'of erecting temporary buildings for curing them.' The contingency of the future ownership of the lands, therefore, was foreseen and provided for; in other words, the Indians were given a right in the land,-the right of crossing it to the river,-the right to occupy it to the extent and for the purpose mentioned. No other conclusion would give effect to the treaty. And the right was intended to be continuing against the United States [198 U.S. 371, 382] and its grantees as well as against the state and its grantees.
The respondents urge an argument based upon the different capacities of white men and Indians to devise and make use of instrumentalities to enjoy the common right. Counsel say: 'The fishing right was in common, and aside from the right of the state to license fish wheels, the wheel fishing is one of the civilized man's methods, as legitimate as the substitution of the modern combined harvester for the ancient sickle and flail.' But the result does not follow that the Indians may be absolutely excluded. It needs no argument to show that the superiority of a combined harvester over the ancient sickle neither increased nor decreased rights to the use of land held in common. In the actual taking of fish white men may not be confined to a spear or crude net, but it does not follow that they may construct and use a device which gives them exclusive possession of the fishing places, as it is admitted a fish wheel does. Besides, the fish wheel is not relied on alone. Its monopoly is made complete by a license from the state. The argument based on the inferiority of the Indians is peculiar. If the Indians had not been inferior in capacity and power, what the treaty would have been, or that there would have been any treaty, would be hard to guess.
The construction of the treaty disposes of certain subsidiary contentions of respondents. The Land Department could grant no exemptions from its provisions. It makes no difference, therefore, that the patents issued by the Department are absolute in form. They are subject to the treaty as to the other laws of the land.
It is further contended that the rights conferred upon the Indians are subordinate to the powers acquired by the state upon its admission into the Union. In other words, it is contended that the state acquired by its admission into the Union 'upon an equal footing with the original states,' the power to grant rights in or to dispose of the shore lands upon navigable streams, and such power is subject only to the [198 U.S. 371, 383] paramount authority of Congress with regard to public navigation and commerce. The United States, therefore, it is contended, could neither grant nor retain rights in the shore or to the lands under water.
The elements of this contention and the answer to it are expressed in Shively v. Bowlby, 152 U.S. 1 , 38 L. ed. 331, 14 Sup. Ct. Rep. 548. It is unnecessary, and it would be difficult, to add anything to the reasoning of that case. The power and rights of the states in and over shore lands were carefully defined, but the power of the United States, while it held the country as a territory, to create rights which would be binding on the states, was also announced, opposing the dicta scattered through the cases, which seemed to assert a contrary view. It was said by the court, through Mr. Justice Gray:
... * *
Many cases were cited. And it was further said:
The extinguishment of the Indian title, opening the land for settlement, and preparing the way for future states, were appropriate to the objects for which the United States held the territory. And surely it was within the competency of the mation to secure to the Indians such a remnant of the great rights they possessed as 'taking fish at all usual and accustomed places.' Nor does it restrain the state unreasonably, if at all, in the regulation of the right. It only fixes in the land such easements as enable the right to be exercised.
The license from the state, which respondents plead, to maintain a fishing wheel, gives no power to them to exclude the Indians, nor was it intended to give such power. It was the permission of the state to use a particular device. What rights the Indians had were not determined or limited. This was a matter for judicial determination regarding the rights of the Indians and rights of the respondents. And that there may be an adjustment and accommodation of them the Solicitor General concedes and points out the way. We think, however, that such adjustment and accommodation are more within the province of the circuit court in the first instance than of this court.
Decree reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
Mr. Justice White dissents.
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Citation: 198 U.S. 371
Docket No: No. 180
Decided: May 15, 1905
Court: United States Supreme Court
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