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The Quileute Tribe is located in La Push, Washington, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The Quileute Tribe has lived and hunted in this area for thousands of years. Although the village of La Push is only about one-square mile, the tribe’s original territory stretched along the shores of the Pacific from the glaciers of Mount Olympus to the rivers of rain forests. Much has changed since those times, but Quileute Elders remember “back in the days” When the “old people” dared challenge kwalla, the mighty whale, and recounted the story of how the bayak or raven placed the sun in the sky.
Because of the remote location of La Push, the Quileute have built a tourism industry that serves those seeking a relaxing getaway or a rejuvenating adventure. The tribe’s Oceanside Resort along First Beach offers ocean-view accommodations ranging from luxurious to rustic. Those who visit La Push come for whale watching in the spring; surfing, fishing, and hiking in the summer; and storm watching in the fall and winter.
On July 9, 2015, Judge Ricardo S. Martinez of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington recognized the important maritime heritage of the Quileute people when he announced his ruling in favor of the Quileute Tribe after a lengthy 23-day bench trial that ended in April. The court heard testimony from eleven witnesses and reviewed hundreds of trial exhibits. After considering the issues and reviewing the evidence, the court issued a detailed and fact-based ruling that allows the Quileute to continue to enjoy their traditional connection to the ocean.
In 2009, the Makah Indian Tribe sued the Quileute Tribe and the Quinault Indian Nation in United States v. Washington, seeking to dramatically cut back the areas in the ocean in which the Quileute and Quinault could fish. At stake were the western boundaries for the Quileute and Quinault in the Pacific Ocean, as well as the northern boundary of the Quileute’s treaty fishing grounds. Treaty fishing boundaries are determined based upon where a tribe customarily fished at and before treaty times (the 1850s). Evidence drawn from linguistics, archaeology, marine biology, and anthropology was presented at trial to prove where the Quileute fished at and before treaty times.
The ruling was greeted with tears of joy by Quileute tribal members and elders on the reservation at La Push, Washington. The fear of even the chance of losing their heritage cut deep into the hearts of members of the tribe. The Tribal Council reacted with pride that their traditions were recognized and upheld. “We were prepared to see this through the end because we knew what was right.”
Quileute Chairwoman Naomi Jacobson shared, "Quileute is celebrating the ruling of Judge Martinez. We are pleased to know that the court recognizes our inherent rights in accordance to the promises made in the Treaty of Olympia. It is unfortunate that our Native people continue to have to justify where we came from and what our traditional practices have been for time immemorial. We have a great appreciation for our ancestors and their efforts in ensuring the sustainability of our tribe. Not only does this ruling reassure our fishing rights, but allows us to continue in monitoring and maintaining our resources for generations to come."
The Quileute Tribe was represented by Lauren King and Jake Larson of the Foster Pepper Litigation & Dispute Resolution practice, along with co-counsel John Tondini of Byrnes Keller Cromwell LLP. Lauren King commented: “We were proud and humbled to represent the ancestors, the members and the generations yet to come of the Quileute Tribe to help ensure that they can continue their connection to the ocean. This is an important win for all tribes’ treaty rights.”
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