The court decision and what it means

What happened?

Federal District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled Wednesday that the state of Washington has failed to uphold its end of the Treaty of Point Elliott, which the federal government signed with nearly two dozen American Indian tribes in 1855. The tribes gave up land that amounts to about a fifth of what is now Washington state, but reserved their right to their culture, which depends partially on healthy fish runs.

The summary judgment ruling dealt with only one part of the case. The rest of the ruling, which could include a timeline for how long the state has to repair its culverts, will be decided in a Sept. 24 trial.

How many culverts are we talking about?

The state is responsible for just over 3,000 fish-crossing streams. Fish have to fight barriers in about half of them.

The state is responsible for culverts that stretch along more than 7,000 miles of highway; counties for culverts under more than 54,000 miles of roadway; cities for culverts under more than 16,000 miles of streets.

What does this have to do with the Boldt decision?

The culvert lawsuit is a sub-proceeding of the Boldt decision. Federal District Court Judge George Boldt in 1974 ruled that the Treaty of Point Elliott reserved for the tribes the right to half of all fish harvests.

Since then, courts have been trying to determine the meaning of Boldt’s ruling. Martinez’s decision supports Boldt’s ruling that the Treaty of Point Elliott guarantees an environment healthy enough for Indians to practice their culture.

What’s next?

The 20 tribes involved in the suit, including the Tulalip, Sauk-Suiattle and Stillaguamish Indian Tribes, on Wednesday will meet state officials before Martinez to decide how to proceed. The trial date on how the ruling should be enforced is set for Sept. 24.

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