Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > American Indians of the Pacific Northwest

Back to Collection Connections

[Detail] Chilkat dancers, Alaska, 1895

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

A thorough examination of the collection makes it possible to assess the United States' decision to create reservations. The article, "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest," provides a good starting point. Consider the following questions:

  • What parties had a stake in how the U.S. would choose to relate with Native Americans? What were these parties' interests?
  • What problems did the U.S. hope to solve in creating an Indian policy?
  • How do you think the creation of reservations addressed these problems and responded to a variety of interests? What priorities does this policy reflect?
  • What kind of policy would you have chosen and why? What steps would you have taken to implement it? What resistance would you have met and how would you have dealt with it?

The article, "Rights of the Puget Sound Indians to Game and Fish" examines the rights of one Washington tribal group. The treaty of Point Elliot guaranteed the Puget Sound Indians "'The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations. . . in common with all citizens of the Territory.'"

  • Is Native Americans' equal right to fish denied if commercial fishing depletes this natural resource? Should fishing by non-Native Americans be controlled so as to insure that Native Americans may fish successfully?
  • According to the author, how was the requirement to obtain a fishing license discriminatory against Native Americans? Does this interfere with their right to fish "in common with all citizens"?
  • Should Native Americans' right to fish be regarded differently because they depend upon fishing for their sustenance or because of the special significance of fish to some native cultures?
  • Do treaties give Native Americans a greater right to fish than other people?
  • Should citizens be required to allow Native Americans to hunt and fish on their land because it was a "usual and accustomed" fishing ground for Native Americans at the time a treaty was signed, even if it is fifty or sixty miles from a reservation? Does this interfere with property rights? Which is more important?


The article, "Washington State and Tribal Sovereignty: A 1979 Debate on Indian Law" explores the scope of the power, or sovereignty, of a reservation government. For example, do reservation laws apply to non-Native American inhabitants of reservations? If a Native American breaks a law when off of reservation lands, is he or she under the jurisdiction of reservation, state, or federal laws?

The article records an extended argument made by the then Washington state attorney general, Slade Gorton. He argues that the sovereignty of a reservation government is, like city or county governments, subordinate in some ways to state and national governments. He argues that the sovereignty of reservation governments is not inherent, but for all intents and purposes granted by the United States. He compares treaties with Native Americans to the peace treaty made with Japan after World War II, in which the Allied forces that had occupied Japan after its defeat recognized the sovereignty of the Japanese people over Japan:

"The assertion of sovereignty by the United States effectively eliminated all tribal powers. By treaty, some were restored, just as Japan's sovereignty was effectively restored by its peace treaty."

(Page 101, "Washington State and Tribal Sovereignty: A 1979 Debate on Indian Law")

  • Do you think that Gorton's comparison is sound? When Native-American tribes signed treaties, were they admitting defeat by a sovereign power and looking to have their sovereignty restored?
  • Do you think that this is how the U.S. government viewed the situation? Do you think that this is how Native-American tribes viewed the situation?
  • Do you think that the government officials who created treaties thought that Native Americans would practice self-government on reservations? Do you think that Native Americans had this expectation?
  • Does the subjection of tribal sovereignty to state or federal sovereignty interfere with Native Americans' right to self-government, which was established in 1934?