1990 Finalist
Washington State
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Washington's resistance to the recognition of Indian rights was renowned. Through 1983, the state not only fought directly with the tribes through divisive litigation, but also persistently sought to avoid implementing federal court's rulings upholding Indian fishing rights. Through litigation, virtually every fishery management decision was made by the court, resulting in its becoming the de facto fishery manager in Washington. At the same time, the fishery resource experienced an appalling decline. It became apparent that, if the integrity and value of the resource was truly a concern, the business of managing fish had to be returned to professional managers so that they could focus on protecting and eventually increasing the resource.

Through 1984 and 1985, a state-tribal plan for the cooperative management of fisheries in Puget Sound was jointly developed and approved by the federal court under U.S. v. Washington. In this and other cooperative plans developed through 1988, the fishery management process throughout Washington was modified to exclude the court and include the tribes. The resulting effort, Government to Government: A State/Tribal Accord, recognizes and respects the sovereign governmental powers of the federally recognized tribes located within the state of Washington. The policy emerged in the early 1980s with results in fisheries management, but was then institutionalized, allowing for widespread implementation. In 1989, Governor Booth Gardner and Indian tribes in Washington institutionalized the new policy by signing the Centennial Accord. While only a document, the accord captures Washington's new philosophy, one of respect for and partnership with tribal governments. The accord requires the state and the tribes jointly to periodically "establish goals for improved services and identify the obstacles preventing the achievement of those goals.” It commits both state and tribal governments to document systems of accountability through which issues of mutual concern will be addressed.

The people of Washington, Indian and non-Indian, are better served by savings in time and expense and through the proven effectiveness of cooperative decision-making and management. Specifically, improved governmental relationships stem from executive accountability, which ensures mutual respect for state and tribal sovereignty, jurisdiction, treaty rights, and authorities; from an emphasis on joint state-tribal resolution of technical and factual questions; and from documented, mutual commitments to seek resolution of policy issues through cooperation and negotiation rather than litigation.

The success of achieving the initial goal of saving the fishery resource by returning decision-making to professional managers can be measured both in reduced litigation and in generally improved fish runs. The number of disputes that reach the courts dropped from more than 75 in 1983 to less than a handful in each year since. The overharvest of fishery resources has been stopped (through cooperative domestic management and the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada), the consequential decline in the production of fish has been reversed (through joint management planning), and today more fish are available for both Indians and non-Indians. Success is also illustrated by the settlement of the complex Puyallup Tribal Land Claim, the cooperative negotiation of the conduct of forest practices to protect fish and wildlife habitat through the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement, and agreements to address land use concerns.