(CN) - The 9th Circuit on Thursday upheld a decision granting joint tribal fishing rights on The Wenatchee River in north-central Washington.
Judge Tallman wrote that both the Yakama and Wenatchi tribes maintain non-exclusive fishing rights at the confluence of Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River, near the town of Leavenworth.
The decision was based on historical evidence, including transcripts of treaty negotiations, since the treaties themselves -- "as the result of broken and forgotten promises" -- were not completely clear.
Anthropological evidence established that both tribes historically used the confluence area, called the Wenatshapam Fishery, to capture and live off salmon.
As white settlers entered the region in the latter part of the 19th century, the federal government began a "hasty effort to clear land" of Native Americans, the ruling states. An 1855 treaty gave the Yakama land at the river confluence.
After the railroad reached the Wenatchee Valley around the turn of the century, the government suggested that white settlers negotiate with the Indians to purchase the riverside land. During a session when representatives from the Wenatchi tribe were not present, other tribes agreed to sell the area for $20,000.
According to treaty transcripts, the Yakama Tribe only did this under the condition that the Wenatchi maintain fishing rights there. A government official at that time promised to maintain the Wenatchi's right to fish at Wenatshapam.
The United States filed suit on behalf of four tribes, including the Yakama Nation, in 1968. The Wenatchi, who were forced onto the Colville Reservation around 1900, intervened in 1989. The Yakama Tribe sought to block the Wenatchi from fishing at Wenatshapam in 2003.
Although the 9th Circuit initially prevented the Wenatchi from intervening, the appellate court reversed in 2006.
The San Francisco-based panel upheld the trial court's determination that the Yakama and Wenatchi tribes maintain mutual fishing rights at Wenatshapam.
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