Marlon Brando and Bob Satiacum, exercising tribal fishing rights in 1964. (Click for photo.)
  • Washington State Archives
  • Click for photo of Marlon Brando and Bob Satiacum demonstrating for tribal fishing rights in 1964.

Fifty years ago, Washington State's Native Americans were fighting for their right to keep fishing their traditional waters. People called it the Fish Wars. With a number of Native Americans getting arrested simply for fishing as allowed by treaty, Marlon Brando decided to show up and get arrested with them.

Brando, Episcopal clergyman John Yaryan and Puyallup tribal leader Bob Satiacum protested the denial of treaty rights by fishing for salmon in the Puyallup River, in defiance of state law. The three caught salmon without state permits. Patterned after the sit-ins of the civil rights movements, the “fish-in” resulted in the arrest of Brando and Yaryan. Satiacum was not arrested. Charges were not filed against Brando and Yaryan, so they were released.

Last week, the Washington State Legislature voted to allow those who did end up with criminal records after the fish-ins to have their records cleared. The bill passed 92-6 in the state house, and unanimously in the state senate.