Wilbur Slockish: The People Said ‘We Already Had Those Rights.’

Wilbur Slockish (Klickitat, Yakama) talks about the removal of rights and forcible relocation to reservations such as Fort Simcoe. 2:47.

Bio: Wilbur Slockish was one of several men who were arrested along with David Sohappy for “illegally” fishing and selling their fish in a case known as “Salmon Scam”. (https://www.nwcouncil.org/history/SalmonScam) He was born in 1944 in Wapato, Washington and is a member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. As a boy, he fished at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. After Slockish was released from prison, he concentrated his efforts on water quality and health issues related to the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant. Slockish was part of the Bi-State Water Quality Commission for the Lower Columbia for three years and was appointed as a member of the Hanford Health Effect Subcommittee (HHES) in 1997. Through his work with HHES, Slockish has educated Tribal members about Hanford pollution and disposal of nuclear waste. In 1994, Slockish fought and successfully banned the storage of Hanford nuclear waste on the Yakama Reservation.


“When Isaac Stevens came down and negotiated and some of our people, ah, headed backwards and they were saying, ‘The government asked what I can give you. I can give you land, I can give you fishing runs, I can give you all of these rights.’ And our people said, ‘We already had those rights. Why are you saying something like that?’ This is our homeland, this is where all of our foods grew. And our tools and everything. And they wanted to relocate everybody to the reservation, and they said, ‘No, we are the people of this river, the (Native word 41:09)… this is our area. We’re not moving over there.’ And they finally gave up and said, ‘You people can stay.’ We never relocated to the reservation. And that’s what a lot of people don’t realize: is that they had people in the barbed-wire enclosures on those reservations, Fort Simcoe for instance. And I know you’ve never heard of that one but ah, my aunt –well, our aunt — always used to say that when they did capture people and take them over there, they tried to make them work, they tried to make them do things. Slave labor. They wouldn’t do it. They just sat down and started singing. And sang themselves until they died. Because they would not conform, they wished to be here, on this river. And ah, some of them used to sneak off the reservations, and come down here. Because this is where the primary food source was. Our staple diet was the salmon. And we never wanted to give it up. And we were here because our burial sites are here, all of our food gathering areas are here, and we didn’t want to move away from that. Because they were given to us by the Creator. And we weren’t going to l et them go. So we stayed here. And ah, I don’t know how they classified us but that’s what they said, ‘They’re River People’ because they won’t leave it.’ That was the government’s label”

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