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Over the years, there have been some misunderstandings and misperceptions regarding CRITFC. Below we answer some of the more common ones:

Did tribes give away their treaty rights by joining CRITFC?

Joining CRITFC in no way negatively affected the treaty rights of the four member tribes. Each tribe is sovereign, stands on its own, and retains all of its treaty rights and management authorities. The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama, and Warm Springs tribes chose to work together to manage fisheries for many reasons. Their 1855 treaties have very similar fishing rights language and the four tribes face similar challenges especially from the states. CRITFC provides a place for the tribes who are parties to US v. Oregon to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern for their fisheries. No tribe is required to check its sovereignty at the door when meeting at CRITFC. The four tribes established the Commission in a manner that respects each tribe’s individual sovereignty. CRITFC staff can only implement action if all four tribes agree. If one tribe does not agree, then CRITFC can take no action as a body, but each tribe may act independently.

Does CRITFC grant Zone 6 fishing rights to tribes?

Federal recognition of the four tribes’ rights to fish in Zone 6 was determined by the Federal Court years prior to the creation of CRITFC, including a decision of the Federal Court in the 1969 US v Oregon treaty fishing rights case. The rulings were based on an interpretation of each tribe’s treaty language and demonstration of usual and accustomed fishing places on the Columbia River. The treaty fishing rights of each CRITFC member tribe on the Columbia River are settled law and would be extremely difficult to challenge at this point. Treaty rights cannot be legally extended to other tribes.

Does CRITFC promote the interest of the tribes or the states?

CRITFC is a resource for and answers only to the tribes. Since its formation in 1977, CRITFC has provided technical support (affidavits, expert witnesses, and legal briefs) in court actions against the states to protect the tribal fishery. The US v. Oregon parties developed the Technical Advisory Committee which requires state biologists to work with tribal biologists in addressing technical aspects of fishery management. This has allowed the tribes to realize their full co-management authority. Tribal and CRITFC staff are guided by tribal officials to ensure compliance with tribal policies and viewpoints when working with state biologists. The tribes make special efforts to provide guidance to staff based on traditional cultural values and teachings.

Does CRITFC set tribal fishing seasons?

CRITFC does not have the authority to set fishing seasons for its member tribes. The power to set fishing seasons and create regulations lies solely with the tribes themselves. For example, Yakama fishing seasons and regulations are set by the Yakama Nation only. CRITFC is only a forum where the tribes discuss fishing season options of mutual interest. The four tribes coordinate with each other with the objective of adopting consistent seasons. CRITFC, in collaboration with tribal staff, provides CRITFC commissioners with updated harvest and run size information and an analysis of different fishery options. CRITFC commissioners from the individual tribes make recommendations on the fishery structures but individual tribes—and only individual tribes—have the authority to set tribal fishery regulations for their members. In some cases the tribes may not agree on a common season, and each tribe has the authority to adopt differing regulations. In general, tribal fishers benefit from a common set of regulations. Consistent seasons and regulations promote fairness for all of the fishers, reduce confusion and reduce the level of law enforcement needed to enforce separate regulations.

Can one CRITFC tribe be out-voted by the other three?

CRITFC operates on a consensus model (4-0 vote) not a majority model (3-1 vote). This means CRITFC can act if and only if all four tribes agree. While the number of commissioners varies between each tribe, decisions are made by unanimous tribal agreement, not by majority. Each of CRITFC’s member tribes receives one tribal vote. A tribe with many more commissioners still only has one vote. In the event of no consensus, each tribe always has the right to act under its own authority.

Why is having CRITFC Enforcement important to tribal sovereignty?

There will always be enforcement of laws on the Columbia River. If the tribes themselves do not provide that law enforcement, state and federal enforcement agencies are more than willing to step in. The result is that the boundaries of tribal sovereignty are eroded or encroached upon. Without fully effective intertribal law enforcement, state and federal agencies would again take over law enforcement on the river and tribal members would be prosecuted in state and federal courts rather than their own tribal courts. This is already happening in Zone 6; ask anyone who has been cited into state court whether they would prefer being cited into tribal court. A strong CRITFC Enforcement presence can help protect tribal fishers from state enforcement actions and citation into state courts. The purpose of CRITFC Enforcement is twofold: enforce tribal fishing laws and protect tribal members who are exercising their fishing rights. CRITFC Enforcement safeguards tribal sovereignty and self-regulatory status from state infringement and protects individual rights and safety. Law enforcement will occur on the Columbia one way or another. The tribes prefer tribal rather than state and federal enforcement. The states’ interference with the tribes’ exercising of their treaty reserved fishing rights is why CRITFC was formed in 1977 and CRITFC Enforcement was formed in 1982. Simply put, if a tribe does not enforce its own laws and regulations on its own members then state and federal enforcement will enforce their laws and regulations on tribal members.

Does CRITFC Enforcement pick and choose what tribal regulations it enforces?

Since a tribal fisher is only subject to his or her own tribe’s fishing regulations, differences between the tribal regulations results in differences in enforcement. For example, the number of hook-and-line gear allowed for tribal fishers fishing in Zone 6 varies by tribe. Therefore, it may appear that CRITFC Enforcement is picking on certain tribal members who have a few poles in the water while ignoring fishers using as many as they want. They are just enforcing a difference in tribal regulations.

As sworn officers of the court, CRITFC Enforcement officers are required to carry out the orders of the court, which sometimes requires the arrest of individuals that have existing warrants whether tribal, state, or federal. Checking for tribal identification is also necessary to ensure only enrolled members from our four member tribes are participating in the treaty fishery. However, harassment is not our intent. In addition to enforcing fishing regulations, CRITFC Enforcement officers provide assistance to tribal fishers during times of need, protect archeological sites, and protect tribal fishing sites from encroachment from non-Indians such as wind surfers and non-tribal fishers. CRITFC Enforcement officers are often the first on the scene of an accident and provide search and rescue and recovery services to tribal fishers and their families on the often dangerous waters of the Columbia River. CRITFC Enforcement officers assist tribal members by delivering emergency messages, vehicle and boat assistance when available, and providing general public safety programs such as the boat inspection program.