Tribe loses fight over hunting

Nooksack Indian said treaty gave him right to hunt on state land

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2000

WASHINGTON - A Nooksack Indian Tribe member charged with illegally hunting elk on public land in Washington state lost a Supreme Court appeal today.

The court, without comment, rejected an appeal in which he argued that an 1855 treaty between Indians and Washington Territory gave him the right to hunt on state land, out of season and without a license.

Donald Buchanan was charged in 1995 with two felony counts of possessing big game during a closed season and a misdemeanor count of hunting while his license was revoked.

State fish and wildlife officials had found him with two recently killed elk in the state-owned Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Yakima.

Buchanan, of Kent, Wash., asked a state judge to dismiss the charges on grounds the state hunting regulations did not apply to members of Indian tribes with treaty rights to hunt on ``open and unclaimed'' land.

A trial judge dismissed the charges, saying the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott did not restrict Indians' hunting rights to lands they previously had ceded to the United States. Instead, the judge said, the treaty gave the Indians the right to hunt on open land anywhere in the former Washington Territory.

A state appeals court agreed, but the Washington Supreme Court reinstated the charges.

Nooksack Indians' right to hunt on open land is restricted to their traditional hunting areas, the state's top court ruled. It added that Buchanan should be given the chance to prove that the Oak Creek Wildlife Area was a traditional hunting area.

Both sides appealed to the Supreme Court. Buchanan's appeal said the treaty granted the Indians hunting rights to ``open and unclaimed'' land and did not restrict their rights to traditional hunting grounds. It would be difficult to determine what areas were traditionally used by the tribe for hunting, the appeal added.

The state's appeal said any hunting rights granted by the treaty ended when Washington became a state.

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