Sovereign Relations on the West Coast

The U.S. government operates under a unique relationship with tribal governments based on provisions of the U.S. Constitution, congressional legislation, treaties, Executive orders, Secretarial orders, and judicial decisions that recognize reserved rights of Native Americans to protect their property and their way of life.

The U.S. government operates under a unique relationship with tribal governments based on provisions of the U.S. Constitution, congressional legislation, treaties, Executive orders, Secretarial orders, and judicial decisions that recognize reserved rights of Native Americans to protect their property and their way of life. The relationship between Federally-recognized Indian Tribes and the Federal government is one of sovereign to sovereign (i.e., supreme political authority from one nation (the United States) to another (Tribal Nations)) and has been described in length by the Federal judiciary and referred to in Federal law promoting Tribal self-determination and self-governance. See: NOAA Procedures for Government-to-Government Consultation with Federally-Recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations.

Several of the pertinent Executive and Secretarial orders and policies, listed below, describe the unique and long-standing trust relationship between the tribes and the federal government.

Indian tribes on the West Coast retain strong spiritual and cultural ties to marine and other aquatic species based on thousands of years of use for tribal religious/cultural ceremonies, subsistence, and commerce. These species include salmon and steelhead, halibut, whiting, sturgeon, lamprey, and several other species.

Many Pacific Northwest Indian tribes have treaties reserving their right to fish in “Usual and Accustomed” fishing places that include important marine and freshwater fish. These tribes are co-managers of the fisheries with the states and federal government. They participate in management decisions including those related to hatchery production, habitat conservation, hydropower, and fisheries harvest. Other tribes located along the West Coast whose reservations were created by Executive order, also have a trust relationship with the federal government and an interest in marine and freshwater resources.

Tribal and treaty-reserved fishing rights

In the Columbia Basin and western Washington, tribal treaty-reserved fishing rights are under the continuing jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for the Districts of Oregon and Washington in the cases of United States v. Oregon and United States v. Washington (No. 68-513 and Civ. No. 9213, respectively). In these cases, the court described the limits of state regulations of treaty fisheries and affirmed that treaties reserved for the tribes 50 percent of the harvestable surplus of natural-origin and hatchery-origin fish destined to pass through their usual and accustomed fishing areas.

In the State of California, when the United States set aside the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Indian Reservations along the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, it reserved “federally protected fishing rights to the fishery resource in the rivers running through the reservations.” See: Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs Report (Sloan 2011).

List of Federally-Recognized Tribes

Presidential & Department of Commerce Guidance

Western Intertribal Organizations and Member Tribal Governments

There are 151 Federally-recognized tribes in the West Coast Region. However, NOAA would like to note that there are many other non-federally-recognized tribal partners. Most tribes have websites with valuable information about their tribe, related treaties, and the tribal government/departments. Many of the tribes also are represented by intertribal organizations.

The list below includes Federally-recognized tribes with available websites and a link to a more exhaustive list of tribes in California from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If you are a tribe and would like to include a link to your website on our site, please contact Amilee Wilson, West Coast Regional Tribal Coordinator, at 360.753.5820, or Amilee.Wilson@noaa.gov.

Contact Us

Amilee Wilson
Regional Tribal Coordinator
NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region
Communications & External Affairs Branch

Phone: 360.753.5820
Fax 360.753.9517
Email: Amilee.Wilson@noaa.gov

Last updated by West Coast Regional Office on September 26, 2019