Virginia Beavert: “They’re Practicing Their Indian Law.”

Virginia Beavert (Yakama) talks about activism for fishing rights, including going to the federal court to object to families being charged for fishing out of season. 2:59.

Bio: Virginia Beavert received her Doctorate in Linguistics from the University of Oregon and teaches her native language, Ichishkin. Virginia Beavert, a member of the Yakama Nation, is a highly respected teacher and fluent speaker of her language, Yakama Sahaptin (Ichishkíin Sɨ́nwit)c. She was a key planner of the Yakama exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and has served on numerous committees and planning councils related to the documentation and preservation of Native languages. ( She grew up learning Nez Perce, and also Klickitat, Umatilla and Yakama dialects of Sahaptin. A respected Yakama elder, she has made invaluable contributions to Confluence at the Sacajawea Park Story Circles project, and the Vancouver Land Bridge.


“Yeah, I’ve been an activist about a lot of things I guess. I know stuck my neck out a lot of times about fishing rights. I heard about some Indian people getting thrown in jail for fishing for you know, out of season, when they ran out food, they had lots of children. I heard they were in jail and they were taking them to court over at Centralia, the federal court. And I told my mother, I’m going over there. So she said ‘I’ll go with you.’ So we walked into court and these little children were sitting there with their mother. Mothers. And I don’t know how many families were there but they didn’t even have a attorney. But they were being charged for fishing out of season. The children were accomplices because they were hiding the salmon. They were taking to go sell, you know. They had it covered with canvas and they were sitting on top of it. So they were accomplices. So I managed to–I was elected at that time. So I managed to ask if them had a defense attorney and they said no. I said well, you can’t charge them then. I told them I’m going back to the tribal council and report this. And if you could postpone it. They postponed it. And I went charging into the council and I really raised my voice and they said well they are breaking the law, they’re fishing out of season. I said whose law? They’re practicing their Indian law. They need food.”

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