Seattle P-I story in March 1964 about Marlon Brando being arrested on charges of illegal fishing. (Image courtesy of Washington State Archives)
Many people associate Marlon Brando for starring in movie classics like ”A Streetcar Named Desire” and ”The Godfather.” But many Native Americans and followers of the Northwest “fish wars” from the 1960s and ‘70s remember Brando for standing alongside tribal leaders to protest the denial of their treaty rights for fishing.
It was 50 years ago this week when Brando, Episcopal clergyman John Yaryan and Puyallup tribal leader Bob Satiacum protested the denial of treaty rights by fishing for salmon in the Puyallup River, in defiance of state law. The three caught salmon without state permits. Patterned after the sit-ins of the civil rights movements, the “fish-in” resulted in the arrest of Brando and Yaryan. Satiacum was not arrested. Charges were not filed against Brando and Yaryan, so they were released.
For Native Americans who were arrested during the fishing wars, and their families, good news is coming out of Olympia. The Legislature this week has passed a bill giving Native American tribal members arrested and jailed while exercising their treaty fishing rights before 1975 the chance to clear their criminal records.
Although U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt ruled in 1974 that the state had violated the tribes’ fishing rights, the convictions remained on the records of tribal members who were arrested, and state law didn’t offer a good way to expunge them.