Non-Indians try to hold onto private property

  • Joe Hoots startles a clam into spurting water near his Gig Harbor home

    Russ Carmack

Note: this article is a sidebar to a news story, Washington tribes vigorously claim their rights.

In the struggle for Indian sovereignty, Washington state tribes have led the charge on every major front - in the courts, in Congress and around conference tables.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that other Washington residents have led the resistance.

The formidable United Property Owners of Washington (UPOW) led a statewide initiative attempt to annul Indian treaties. It has formed networks across the country to push for national legislation limiting Indian power.

UPOW has been granted the right to speak for property owners in the federal lawsuit now being argued in Seattle. UPOW says it represents more than 100 organizations with a combined membership of more than 60,000 people.

Indians claim the resistance is racially motivated. Those involved insist it is not.

"This has nothing to do with race," said UPOW member Joe Hoots. "I have nothing against Indians. This is a property-rights issue."

For 55 years, Hoots and his wife have enjoyed 100 spectacular feet of high-bank waterfront in Gig Harbor. From their living room, the Hootses can see Mount Rainier towering over a long, sweeping stretch of the Tacoma Narrows.

Hoots believes that his years of residence have given him the right to say who can cross his property and who can dig the clams on his beach.

He is looking forward to testifying in federal court against the tribes' claim that their treaties give them the right to gather shellfish on privately owned tidelands. That's what UPOW is all about, Hoots said.

Rudolph Ryser sees things differently.

A Cowlitz tribal member and head of the Olympia-based Center for World Indigenous Studies, Ryser spent six years tracking what he calls "the anti-Indian movement" in America.

Ryser concluded that resistance to tribal sovereignty has been orchestrated and inflamed by a small, hard-core group of Washington conservatives. The acronyms and mailing lists have changed over time, Ryser said. The basic agenda and the organizers have not.

Concerned property owners like Hoots, Ryser said, are being misinformed and manipulated.

"These people are largely duped into supporting an agenda that has never been laid out before them," Ryser said.

The real goal of the movement, he maintains, is the overthrow of tribal governments and the displacement of Indian people with non-Indians on Indian reservations.

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