Metlakatla Indian Community, Annette Islands Reserve v. Egan, 2

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation82 S.Ct. 552,369 U.S. 45,7 L.Ed.2d 562
Docket NumberNo. 2,2
PartiesMETLAKATLA INDIAN COMMUNITY, ANNETTE ISLANDS RESERVE, Appellant, v. William A. EGAN, Governor of the State of Alaska, and the State of Alaska
Decision Date05 March 1962

369 U.S. 45
82 S.Ct. 552
7 L.Ed.2d 562


William A. EGAN, Governor of the State of Alaska, and the State of Alaska.

No. 2.
Argued Dec. 13 and 14, 1961.
Decided March 5, 1962.

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Richard Schifter, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

Oscar H. Davis, Washington, D.C., for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Avrum M. Gross, for appellee pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

Ralph E. Moody, Anchorage, Alaska, for appellee.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, 362 P.2d 901, affirming the denial of an injunction against interference by the State with appellant's use of fish traps in the Annette Islands of southeastern Alaska. Appellant rests its claim in part on regulations promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior whereby the Metlakatla Indian Community was accorded the right to erect and to operate salmon traps at four locations in waters surrounding the Annette Islands, which Congress set aside for its use in 1891. Alaska challenged this authorization by a state conservation law forbidding the use of salmon traps.

Long before the white man came to Alaska, the annual migrations of salmon from the sea into Alaska's rivers to spawn served as a food supply for the natives. Commercial salmon fishing has become vital for Alaska's economy, but its exploitation seriously threatened the resource even before the turn of the century. See Gruening, The State of Alaska (1954), pp. 75, 97. Congress in 1889, in 1896, in 1906, and again in 1924 enacted conservation measures, prohibiting any obstruction of waters to impede salmon migration, limiting the times and means of taking salmon

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and authorizing the appropriate department to impose further restrictions.1 When Alaska was established as a State, Congress withheld jurisdiction over her fisheries until she had made adequate provision for their administration.2

Equally with Congress, Alaska has been concerned with the evils of overexploitation. In particular she saw a menace in the fish trap, a labor-saving but costly device, which became in her eyes the symbol of exploitation of her resources by 'Stateside' colonialism. See Rogers, Alaska in Transition (1960), pp. 4—15; Gruening, supra, at pp. 392—407; Gruening, Let Us End American Colonialism (1955), reprinted at 103 Cong.Rec. 470—474. The fish trap, 'a formidable structure,' Alaska Pacific Fisheries v. United States, 248 U.S. 78, 87, 39 S.Ct. 40, 63 L.Ed. 138, consists principally of a fence or netting stretched across or partly across a stream to obstruct the upstream progress of the salmon and turn the fish into the 'heart' or 'pot' of the trap, where they are imprisoned until removed. See Rogers, supra, at p. 7; Gruening, The State of Alaska, supra, at pp. 169—170. At one time there were about 700 salmon traps in operation in Alaska. The Secretary of the Interior felt that the fish trap's threat to conservation could be adequately dealt with by regulating the number of fish permitted to escape.3 Alaska vigorously opposed this. The Territorial Legislature several times sent memorials to Congress urging abo-

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lition of trap fishing.4 An ordinance to abolish all commercial traps was approved by Alaska voters along with the proposed State Constitution in 1956, and in early 1959 the first State Legislature turned this ordinance into the statute here under review.5

The Metlakatla Indians, some 800, led by a British missionary, moved from British Columbia to Alaska in 1887. In 1891 the Annette Islands, south of Ketchikan at the extreme lower end of the Alaskan archipelago, were 'set apart as a reservation' by Congress for the Metlakatlans and other Indians, 'to be held and used by them in common, under such rules and regulations, and subject to such restrictions, as may be prescribed from time to time by the Secretary of the Interior.' 26 Stat. 1095, 1101, 48 U.S.C. § 358, 48 U.S.C.A. § 358. In 1915 the Secretary issued regulations, 25 CFR (1939 ed.), pt. 1, establishing an elective council to make local ordinances for Metlakatla, and also permitting members of the Community to obtain permits for the use of salmon traps in waters adjacent to the Annette Islands. The next year, in furtherance of the Secretary's plan to establish a salmon

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cannery at Metlakatla, President Wilson by proclamation declared the waters within 3,000 feet of certain of these islands to be a part of the Metlakatla Reserve, to be used by the Indians as a source of supply for the intended cannery, 'under the general fisheries laws and regulations of the United States as administered by the Secretary of Commerce.' 39 Stat. 1777.6 In 1918, without reference to the proclamation, this Court upheld the right of the Metlakatlans to exclude others from the waters surrounding their islands on the ground that these waters were included within the original reservation by Congress. Alaska Pacific Fisheries v. United States, 248 U.S. 78, 39 S.Ct. 40, 63 L.Ed. 138.

Ever since 1915, Metlakatla has operated fish traps with the consent of the Secretary of the Interior. Following the enactment of the State's fish-trap law in 1959, the Secretary in the exercise of his transitional power over Alaska fisheries banned all fish traps except those operated by Metlakatla and by other Indians involved in the companion case, Organized Village of Kake v. Egan, 369 U.S. 60, 82 S.Ct. 562, 7 L.Ed.2d 573, 24 Fed.Reg. 2053, 2056, 2069 (1959). The following year, having relinquished general control of the fisheries, the Secretary again authorized Metlakatla to operate fish traps at four of eight specified locations, citing as authority the White Act, 43 Stat. 464, as amended, 48 U.S.C. §§ 221—228, 48 U.S.C.A. §§ 221—228, and § 4 of the Alaska Statehood Act, 72 Stat. 339, as amended by 73 Stat. 141, 48 U.S.C.A. preceding § 21. 25 CFR (1961 Supp.), pt. 88.7

With this background we reach the present controversy. In May, 1959, just before the salmon season began, the

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State warned Metlakatla and other Indians that she would enforce the fishtrap law against them. The threat was intensified when the State arrested members of other Indian communities and seized one fish trap. Suits were thereupon filed by Metlakatla and by the appellants in the companion case in the interim United States District Court for the District of Alaska, seeking an injunction against interference with their asserted federal rights to fish with traps. All complaints were dismissed, 174 F.Supp. 500. Appeal was brought to this Court, as the Supreme Court of Alaska had not yet been fully organized. Pending decision, Mr. Justice BRENNAN granted a stay of enforcement by the State, 80 S.Ct. 33, 4 L.Ed.2d 34. The Court assumed jurisdiction and continued the stay but remanded the case to the newly constituted State Supreme Court primarily for its disposition of matters of local law, 363 U.S. 555, 80 S.Ct. 1321, 4 L.Ed.2d 1397. That Court affirmed the District Court's dismissal, holding the fish-trap law applicable to Metlakatla and to the other appellants, and upholding its validity as so applied, 362 P.2d 901. From its judgment, the appeal is properly here under 28 U.S.C. § 1257, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1257. We noted probable jurisdiction, 368 U.S. 886, 82 S.Ct. 137, 7 L.Ed.2d 86.

Several grounds of the decision below are now out of the case on concession of error by Alaska, but she firmly stands on the judgment in her favor. Metlakatla argues that it is immune from the fish-trap law because (1) state law cannot regulate Indian activities on Indian reservations; (2) the State cannot regulate a federal instrumentality; and (3) appellant has been authorized to operate traps by the Secretary of the Interior. The United States has supported Metlakatla as amicus curiae, see 362 U.S. 967, 80 S.Ct. 953.

The Indians of southeastern Alaska, who have very substantially adopted and been adopted by the white man's civilization, were never in the hostile and isolated

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position of many tribes in other States. As early as 1886 a federal judge, holding Alaskan Indians subject to the Thirteenth Amendment, denied that the principle of Indian national sovereignty enunciated in Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515, 8 L.Ed. 483, applied to them. In re Sah Quah, 31 F. 327 (D.Alaska). There were no Indian wars in Alaska, although on at least one occasion, see Gruening, The State of Alaska (1954), pp. 36—37, there were fears of an uprising. There was never an attempt in Alaska to isolate Indians on reservations. Very few were ever created, and the purpose of these, in contrast to many in other States, was not to confine the Indians for the protection of the white settlers but to safeguard the Indians against exploitation. Alaskan Indians are now voting citizens, some of whom occupy prominent public office in the state government. See United States v. Booth, 161 F.Supp. 269, 17 Alaska 561 (D.Alaska 1958); United States v. Libby, McNeil & Libby, 107 F.Supp. 697, 699, 14 Alaska 37, 41—42 (D.Alaska 1952). Metlakatlans, the State tells us, have always paid state taxes, in contrast to the practice described and prescribed for other reservations in The Kansas Indians, 5 Wall. 737, 18 L.Ed. 667, and it has always been assumed that the reservation is subject to state laws. United States v. Booth, supra, 161 F.Supp., at 270, 17 Alaska, at 563. Congress in 1936, 49 Stat. 1250, 48 U.S.C. § 358a, 48 U.S.C.A. § 358a, by authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to create Indian reservations of land reserved for Indian uses under 48 U.S.C. § 358, 48 U.S.C.A. § 358, seems to have believed that Metlakatla was no ordinary reservation, since Metlakatla alone is covered in § 358. Finally, in United States v. Booth, supra, the District Court for Alaska held that a crime comitted on the Metlakatla...

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