- Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
- Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
- Date Filed: 09-08-2022
- Case #: 21-35185
- Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judges Rawlinson and Owens
- Full Text Opinion
The Metlakatla Indian Community (“the Community”) challenged Alaska’s limited entry program, alleging that it restricted the Community’s off-reservation fishing rights. The district court held that, under the 1891 Act (“the Act”), the right could not be implied and granted the State’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).
On appeal, the Community contended that the Act included their non-exclusive right to fish in off-reservation waters, as they had been doing since 1887. The State argued that, because the Act did not specifically mention any right to off-reservation fishing, one could not be implied. According to the Indian canon of construction (“the Indian canon”), statutes that touch upon federal Indian law “are to be construed liberally in favor of the Indians, with ambiguous provisions interpreted to their benefit.” Swinomish Indian Tribal Cmty. v. BNSF Ry. Co., 951 F.3d 1142, 1156 (9th Cir. 2020) (quoting Montana v. Blackfeet Tribe of Indians, 471 U.S. 759, 766 (1985). The Indian canon requires that rights be inferred that support a reservation’s purpose. Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564, 576–77 (1908). The Court rejected the State’s arguments because fishing was crucial to Community’s livelihood, and their right to fish in the subject waters was asserted and exercised since “time immemorial.” After applying the Indian canon and the Winters implied-rights rule and interpreting the Act in favor of the Community, the Court held that the Act includes an implied fishing right, which extends to “non-exclusive off-reservation fishing in the traditional fishing grounds for personal consumption and ceremonial purposes, as well as for commercial purposes.” REVERSED and REMANDED.