Washington Supreme Court Issues Landmark Ruling Affirming Right to Travel and Trade for Members of Yakama Nation

Mar 16, 2017   Print PDF

Related Practices: Litigation and American Indian Law

In a landmark ruling issued Thursday morning, the Washington Supreme Court recognized that members of the Yakama Nation have an inviolable right to travel for the purposes of trade.  The right emanates from the unique language found in the Treaty of 1855 between the Yakama Nation and the United States of America.

Stokes Lawrence Velikanje Moore & Shore represented Cougar Den, a fuel company owned by a member of the Yakama Nation. Cougar Den imported fuel from Oregon to the Yakama Indian Reservation and sold the fuel to businesses located on Tribal land and owned by Tribal members. The Washington Department of Licensing issued tax assessments on the imported fuel and Cougar Den refused to pay, arguing that the imposition of the tax violated its right to travel and trade under the Treaty.

The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling recognizes that The Treaty of 1855 gives members of the Yakama Nation the right to travel for the purposes of trade without taxation by the State of Washington. In so ruling, the Court struck down millions of dollars in taxes and penalties that the state sought to impose on Cougar Den.

Brendan Monahan, Mat Harrington and Joan Hemphill represented Cougar Den.