Native American Tribe Tries to Ban Marijuana from 10.8 Million Acres it Gave up in 1855 Treaty

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Yakama Chairman Harry Smiskin (photo: Office of Gov. Jay Inslee)

The Yakama Nation in Washington state is demanding that marijuana growers stay off lands on which the tribe holds certain rights, but has not owned since the 19th century.


Tribal leaders are concerned about the state’s new law legalizing recreational marijuana use, and want to prevent the developing industry from unduly influencing young Native Americans.


The 10,000-member tribe has banned all pot growing and selling from the 1.2 million acres of reservation land it controls in the central part of Washington.


But, in addition, the Yakamas want to expand the prohibition to 10.8 million acres it gave up under a treaty in 1855 with the federal government. They are basing this demand on the fact that they still possess hunting, food-gathering and fishing rights on the non-reservation land.


The tribe is willing to push the limits of Native American sovereignty because pot use is already prevalent among many Yakamas. This is in spite of a lack of any cultural ties to pot, according to the tribe. However, its battle against it is not new.


“We have had a long and unpleasant history with marijuana, just as we have had with alcohol,” wrote Yakama Chairman Harry Smiskin in a recent opinion piece published on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website. “We fight them both on our lands.”


The tribe’s concerns about substance abuse originated in the 19th century. It signed a treaty prohibiting hard alcohol on its land 158 years ago.


“Marijuana is the biggest problem for our people up to age 40,” the tribe’s attorney, George Colby, told Reuters. “It’s a bigger problem than alcohol.”


The state has received 1,300 marijuana business applications alone in the 10 counties that sit on the 10.8 million acres.


Chris Marr, a member of the state Liquor Control Board charged with regulating pot, indicated the state was unlikely to side entirely with the tribe. “As far as requiring us to deny applications on all ceded lands, to me that seems to be quite a heavy lift,” he told Reuters.


If the Yakamas don’t get their way, they may sue the state. They have won previous court cases in which they argued that certain projects, including a landfill outside the reservation, threatened the tribe’s well-being.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Indian Tribe Seeks Pot Business Ban in Part of Washington State (by Jonathan Kaminsky, Reuters)

Yakama Tribe Just Says No To Washington State's Legal Pot Market (by Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times)

Guest Post: Why the Yakama Nation Opposes State’s ‘Legal’ Marijuana on Its Land (by Jake Ellison, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)


Muraco 10 years ago
WOULD this be the SAME George Colby who was caught drinking on the job? And violates judicial code?,106100 You are missing the real story here.

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