Scales of Difference: Competing Temporalities in Indian Law Conflicts

Monday, April 16, 2018
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM (ET)
CHS CHS 104 Chase Auditorium
Event Type
Distinguished Visitors Program

Distinguished Visitor Beth Piatote, associate professor of Native American Studies, University of California at Berkeley

In June 2016, a federal appeals court in Seattle ruled unanimously that nineteenth century treaties preserve not only the right for Native Americans to continue to fish but the obligation of the state to protect the fish themselves. In short, fishing rights without fish are no rights at all. The ruling was widely praised by tribes, including Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp, who expressed in an AP article a contemporary understanding of the legal mindset of the treaty signers: “It’s always been our position that when our ancestors signed those treaties and reserved certain resources and activities, that those would be protected forever, from the beginning of time to the end of time.”

Sharp’s temporal frame—from the beginning of time to the end of time—far exceeds that of the American treaty, which was signed in 1855. These disparate points of origin suggest that that for Native American polities, treaties operate within a much longer legal tradition, shaped by a distinct legal imaginary and set of practices.  This paper draws on a range of sources—anthropology, history, literature, and law—to examine the nature of an indigenous legal imaginary that accommodates a larger scale of time and incorporates relationships of legal reciprocity with non-human actors as contracting agents. I focus particularly on how Pacific Northwest peoples understand their obligation to protect salmon not only as vital to their economy and spirituality, but as a binding legal contract that was established long ago between humans and fish, and how this legal imaginary shapes the strategies employed by the treaty signatories and those who continue to defend treaty rights today.

Tea at 4:15 p.m.

Sponsored by the Peace, Justice and Human Rights Program in conjunction with the Distinguished Visitors Program

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