U.S. Supreme Court rejects Klickitat County’s claim to portion of Yakama Indian Reservation

Apr 18, 2022, 12:30 PM
U.S. Route 97 in the Yakama Nation Reservation, Washington state. (Tony Webster via Flickr)
(Tony Webster via Flickr)

Resolving a territory dispute that goes back to 1855, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected Klickitat County’s claims to a portion of the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Klickitat County argued that 121,465 acres of land in the southwestern corner of the Yakama Reservation, including the eastern half of Mt. Adams, were not included in the reservation— an interpretation of the Treaty of 1855 drafted by Territorial Governor Issac Stevens. The state’s first governor described the reservation’s southwestern border as “passing south and east of Mount Adams, to the spur whence flows the water of the Klickitat and Pisco rivers.”

Remembering Washington’s complicated first governor Isaac Stevens

No such spur exists, hence the treaty’s ambiguity.

Predating the treaty, settlers were anxious to move into parts of Washington Territory that had been home to Native Americans for millennia.

Stevens was under pressure to get agreements signed and move Natives onto reservations so that those settlers could settle. Some say that misunderstandings created by the hastily negotiated treaties led to deaths and loss of property by sparking the Indian War of 1855-1856, according to David Nicandri, retired longtime director of the Washington State Historical Society

By most accounts, much of the treaty process led by Stevens appears hurried and sometimes even ham-handed, Nicandri adds.

The Yakama Nation’s claim to a portion of Mt. Adams has been upheld in a series of decisions, including an executive order on behalf of President Richard Nixon in 1972. Klickitat County argued that the treaty’s language should be interpreted to exclude the town of Glenwood from the Reservation

“The Supreme Court’s decision once again validates the continuing strength of our Treaty rights under the United States Constitution,” wrote Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin in a news release. “The Yakama Nation will never compromise when our Treaty is at stake.”

KIRO Newsradio’s Feliks Banel contributed to this report. 

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U.S. Supreme Court rejects Klickitat County’s claim to portion of Yakama Indian Reservation