Chairman JoDe Goudy of the Yakama Nation speaks at the Native Nations Rise rally in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Yakama Nation celebrates treaty whose provisions are questioned by Trump

The Yakama Nation is commemorating the 163rd anniversary of its treaty amid doubts raised by the Trump administration.

Signed in 1855, the treaty recognizes the government-to-government relationship between the tribe and the United States. Though the 14 bands and tribes in the Yakama confederation were forced to cede 11.5 million acres of their homelands, the agreement created a 1.3 million-acre reservation for their people in south central Washington and guaranteed fishing, hunting and other rights throughout their aboriginal territory.

"Great nations, like great men, should keep their word," council member Delano Saluskin told key members of Congress last month, quoting the words of the late Hugo Black, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Delano Saluskin - Yakama Nation - American Indian/Alaska Native Public Witnesses - House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies

But if the Trump administration has its way, the federal government will not be keeping its word when it comes to certain provisions of the treaty. A brief submitted to the nation's highest court just a week after Saluskin testified claims the agreement -- which specifically guarantees "free access" to public highways -- does not shield Yakama citizens from a gasoline tax imposed by the state of Washington.

"The 'right, in common with citizens of the United States, to travel upon all public highways' protected by the 1855 Treaty, is not violated by the tax at issue here," the brief signed by Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, an appointee of President Donald Trump who serves at the Department of Justice, reads.

The flyer for the Yakama Nation Treaty Day event.

The brief was submitted after the Supreme Court asked the federal government for its views in Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den, a petition that seeks to overturn a prior legal victory secured by a Yakama citizen. It took the Trump administration more than seven months to come up with the response.

The long wait did not impress the attorneys for Cougar Den, a fuel company based on the reservation. In a supplemental brief, they accused the government of going to great lengths to "manufacture" a reason for the Supreme Court to hear the case.

"The Solicitor General does not allege a conflict, which of course is this court’s criterion for granting review," they wrote on May 29.

“Tension" -- which is the word the Trump administration used in its brief -- is not enough for the Supreme Court to take on the case, Cougar Den shot back.

The ball is now in the hands of Hugo Black's successors. The current justices of the court are scheduled to consider petition a week from now, during a closed-door conference on June 14, according to Docket No. 16-1498. An announcement on whether they have agreed to hear the case is expected sometime after that.

By that time, the Yakama Nation will have completed another Treaty Day celebration. This year's theme is "Honoring Our Grandmothers," and festivities this weekend include a powwow, rodeo and parade, all revolving around the June 9, 1855, signing of the agreement.

The events kick off on Friday morning, with a flag-raising by members of the Yakama Warriors Association, . The veterans recently celebrated a historic achievement with the opening of their own center on the reservation last month.

The Treaty Day Powwow begins on Friday evening and runs through Sunday. Additional activities include stick games, cultural demonstrations and a youth basketball tournament. The colorful community parade takes place in White Swan on Saturday.

Washington Supreme Court Decision:
Cougar Den Inc. v. Washington State Department of Licensing (March 16, 2017)

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