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Tradition On Trial

Published: November 04, 2016

SPOKANE, Washington - Eastern Washington University and Humanities Washington are teaming up to present the extraordinary story of the Yakima Nation activist who battled the U.S. Government and the state of Washington over native fishing rights along the Columbia River, leaving an indelible mark on salmon run issues in the Northwest.

Tradition on Trial: David Sohappy and the Fight for Indigenous Rights on the Columbia River will be presented Thursday, Nov. 17, 7-9 p.m., at the EWU Center Auditorium at EWU Spokane in the University District. The free public lecture will be presented by Spokane attorney Tom Keefe, who represented Sohappy in a successful effort to have his day in court against the government.

Sohappy, a Wanapum spiritual leader, achieved notoriety in the landmark 1969 federal decision (Sohappy v. Smith) restoring tribal fishing rights throughout the Pacific Northwest, and a controversial criminal conviction in 1983 for selling salmon to a federal and state undercover "sting" operation on the Columbia River entitled "Salmonscam."

"The lessons learned from the life of David Sohappy and other tribal fishing rights activists provide us all with an opportunity to reflect on where we go from here, particularly with respect to the future of the salmon runs that are central to Columbia River Indian culture," says Keefe. "Time is running out for the salmon, and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to stop repeating the mistakes of the past."

Keefe notes the imprisonment of Sohappy and his co-defendants led to international criticism of our state's well documented lack of respect for Indian fishing rights guaranteed to Northwest tribes by 19th century treaties with the U.S. government. At the time of his death in 1991, David Sohappy had become an internationally recognized symbol in the struggle to protect indigenous rights.
The lecture is being funded by in part by grants from Humanities Washington.

In addition to the EWU's new Center for Pacific Northwest Politics, the program is also presented by The Foley Institute at Washington State University and the UNESCO Chair for Water and Environmental History at the University of Arizona.

About Tom Keefe

Tom Keefe's experience as legislative director for U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson (D-WA) and later work for Senator Brock Adams (D-WA) gave him a unique perspective on the tragic collision of governmental, commercial, sport and industrial and tribal interests along the Columbia River that led to David Sohappy's federal court prosecution.

Currently legal counsel for Kauffman & Associates, Inc. in Spokane, Keefe has extensive experience in litigation involving federal Indian treaty rights in federal, state and tribal courts. He also served as an appellate judge for the Northwest Intertribal Court System.

For more information

Please contact Associate Professor Kevin Pirch, Chair of the EWU Political Science Department at 509.359.6057 or for more information about Keefe's lecture on the life of David Sohappy.


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