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Tribal Hunting

Tribal Hunting has been occurring here in the Pacific Northwest for millennia. As a historic way of life, the indigenous people in Washington State have hunted, fished, and gathered natural resources, traditional foods, and medicinal plants since time immemorial.

In the mid-1850s, the federal government wanted to make the Washington Territory a state. The federal government determined that the tribes were sovereign nations with title to the land. The United States commissioned territorial Governor Isaac Stevens to approach individual tribes, in the same manner that it would approach another sovereign nation and negotiated treaties to acquire the lands held by the tribes.

The United States government negotiated the Stevens treaties with Washington Indian tribes for the peaceful settlement of the territory. The treaties established reservations for the exclusive use of the tribes. In addition, the treaty tribes kept their inherent right to hunt, fish, and gather on lands off the reservations. The Stevens treaties contain similar language reserving the right to hunt, fish, and conduct other traditional activities on lands off of the reservations: “The right of taking fish, at all usual accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with the citizens of the territory…together with the privilege of hunting…on open and unclaimed lands.” Treaties are formal contracts between nations and are recognized in the U.S. Constitution as supreme law of the land.

Today tribal governments manage and regulate hunting for their enrolled tribal members to exercise rights reserved in the 1850’s and those rights continue today.

There are 24 tribes that have off-reservation hunting rights within Washington State. There are also some tribes in Washington that do not have treaties or rights to hunt off their reservations. Both tribal and state-licensed hunters hunt game animals across the state. It is important that Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribes work together to manage wildlife. This can be complicated because tribal ceremonial and subsistence hunting and state recreational hunting are based on different cultural heritages and legal frameworks.

Many tribal governments take an active role in the management of wildlife resources. Most tribes with off-reservation hunting rights develop their own regulations and management strategies. In recent years, WDFW and various tribes have worked together to develop management plans for wildlife populations and to re-build game populations. For more information about tribal hunting, please see the Department website at: