Historic Examples of Treaty Rights Interpreter Louis Mann: Part 1

Emily Washines

Historic Examples of treaty rights interpreter Louis Mann

As Natives face a wide range of topics, we look at examples in our past. What is in history to help center these discussions?

Three Yakama elders talk about their grandfather, Louis Mann. In the first part of this series, we focus on fishing rights and a mountain.

In the late 1860s-1920s, tribes were being asked to sign papers they could not read. Louis Mann could read, write and speak English. His letters are substantial. In helping the Yakama people interpret policy presented by the government, he advocated for the treaty rights. For that, he was targeted by the United States, who sought to sign on his behalf to sell land and water rights from underneath him.

His work with other Yakama leaders to protect treaty rights is part of the reason Yakamas remain one of the largest land-based tribes in the United States.

The Yakama Nation’s reservation is 1.3 million acres (southcentral Washington State) with a ceded area that spans 12 million acres and a usual and accustomed area that spans multiple states (12 Stat., 951).

Here are Historic Examples of Treaty Rights Interpreter Louis Mann: Fish and Mountains*

  1. Help Treaty Fishing Cases
  2. Return the Mountain, a Treaty boundary survey error

*Note: These actions were done with the support of his family and in a community-orientated setting. Giving his examples, in no way diminishes the numerous tribal members involved.

Interviewing elders

Each family has a different protocol for asking elders questions. To begin, we talk about the usual and accustomed areas, first contact, the Treaty of 1855, and the teachings of their grandparents. They talk about the 14 Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation working together. To some, 1855 may seem like a long time ago. These elders are just two generations from people referenced during that time period. Their grandfather Louis Mann married Mary, her mother was Josephine Augustus Yemowat, the daughter of Chief Tee-ias (Tee-ya-yash).  

Louis Mann’s Grandchildren

Evelyn Umtuch, Alvin and Elmer Schuster relive the teachings, memories and share the words of their grandfather, giving equal reference to their grandmothers. The elders are excited. Their guidance helps provide context.


Help Treaty Fishing Cases

Louis Mann was one of the interpreters for the fishing rights case at the Washington State Supreme Court. Yakamas lost that case in 1921, but Washington State overturned that decision in 2015. He was a part of the Yakama delegation to support tribal fishers.

The 1921 Photo

A 1921 group photo on the steps of the Washington state Capitol, one of the people is Chief Meninock, who was fighting a Treaty fishing rights case at the State Supreme Court. He is standing next to eighteen other Natives and two non-natives.

In the photo, there are Native people dressed in suits and Natives in regalia. Referencing the 1921 Delegation photo, I hold in my hand. Why are they dressed differently?

“As I understand it, the ones in suits are interpreters,” said Elmer Schuster

“Yes, I did know they had interpreters, but why five?” I ask.

“They wouldn’t just have one interpreter. They would have several. One meeting one room, another in another room,” said Elmer Schuster.

Names of people

Some of the names are a mystery. Taking what information was available, I research and verify that one of the other non-Natives in the photograph is Kate Stevens Bates, the daughter of Governor Stevens. Yakama tribal members help identify additional names.

“That’s my grandpa,” said Noah Schuster, answering a Facebook post. “Ask my dad, Alvin Schuster, he knows about this old picture.”

Upon being shown the photo Alvin said, “Our Grandfather Louis Mann top right, no hat, dark suit, Interpreter, known as THE BAD INJUN Of AHTANUM, he fought BIA over water rights.”

Today, Inj*n is considered a derogatory term. That word will only be used in reference to his historic name. Another part of the series will explain more about how this title was historically important and how today it would be called a “clap back” by Louis Mann to the federal government.  

Cool Research

Evelyn Umtuch, 83 years old, calls me and her first response when she finds out why writing about her grandfather is, “Cool.”

She goes on to describe to say, “He was a self-educated man.” Her family talks of the dedication of serving as an Interpreter. “He paid his own way for trips.”

1921 photo of Yakamas at Olympia Washington

Sharing my findings is significant because when unnamed, museums require multiple people to verify a person in a photo. I reach out to Dr. Andrew Fisher, an Associate Professor of History and Joe Miles, a local historian and each independently confirm the family accounts that it is Louis Mann.  

“I’ve seen the photo, but did not realize this was Governor Stevens’ daughter,” said Jo Miles. After a week, he is able to confirm my research. “Evidently, Kate was living in Olympia at the time and felt compelled to meet the Yakama delegation,” said Jo Miles.

Fishing at Top-tut - Prosser

The heart of the matter is found in a 1920 writing by Lucullus “He-mene Ka-wan” McWhorter. While Louis Mann is quoted throughout, the following is a general description of the case:  

The catch of salmon at Top-tut, now known as Prosser on the Yakima river this year was unusually heavy. Under the Treaty of 1855, it would appear that the right to take fish at this, their ancient fishing grounds, is assured the Indians, but a State law interferes, and the authorities tacitly permitted the Yakimas a certain number of days in which to catch and cure a winter’s supply of this, their favorite food. The fish is both dried and salted. It is hoped that the next legislature will restore to the Yakima’s their right to fish at Top-tut, built especially for them in the beginning by Speelyi.

Fish Wars

In 1921, the Yakama Nation lost that Washington State Supreme Court appeal. For 98 years, Yakama families refuted this decision. Could we have been as steadfast without support? When Washington state overturned that fishing decision, it acknowledged the state’s long history of fish wars with tribes. While the people in the photo did not live to see that day, we get to. Yakamas fish at the location Chief Meninock was charged for fishing. Let our children and neighbors know about this delegation for our treaty fighting rights.  

Treaty Fishing Cases Today

Yakamas are still being taken to court for fishing cases. One fisher awaits a charge for usual and accustomed fishing in Puget Sound. In a 2015 case in Oregon, the state took away smelt from a Yakama in the Sandy River. We have a fisher with Lacey Act charges in federal court. The fish wars continue. Help Treaty Fishing Cases, even if you are not here 98 years later.

Talk about the Mountain in the Treaty of 1855  

Louis Mann and others talked about the boundaries of our mountain and helped reference point for future generations. For decades, Yakamas oral history was heavily criticized by the United States. However, many years later, the U.S. found the 1855 map that supported the tribe’s historical accounts.

In Misplaced Mountain, Dr. Andrew Fisher said, “In the absence of written proof, non-Indians skeptics readily dismissed oral accounts of Steven’s speech as nothing more than colorful fiction.” 

“The boundary lines laid and agreed to by Chief Owhi, Qualchin and others, and signed by the Treaty Chiefs, is not in the written copies of the Treaty,” said Louis Mann in 1916 letter to Lucullus McWhorter.

“It was a fraud trick of the White man and we were wronged out of our lands without knowing it or getting any pay,” said Louis Mann. (Mann, McWhorter, Fisher).

As a teenager, I read Louis Mann’s quotes and others that spoke of the Return of Pahto (Mt. Adams).

In 1999, the return of Pahto was something I referenced in my Q&A speech when asked to explain to talk about Article II of the Treaty of 1855. This effort included a lot of Yakamas.

Dr. Andrew Fisher sent me his journal article and I counted the following Yakamas: Charley Mann, Louis Mann, Thomas K. Yallup, Chief Owhi, Alex Saluskin, Charley Mann, Sampson Tulee, Louis Simpson, Chief White Swan, Chief Spencer, Chief George Lee, Jobe Charley, Chairman Robert Jim, Watson Totus, Staneley Smartlowit, Eagle Seelatsee.

It is a challenge to highlight one of our people towards the return of Pahto, because so much of what we do is within a community-orientated unit. However, by not acknowledging the individual contributions towards an effort, we miss an opportunity to highlight their work.

Treaty Boundary talks continue

These are important times and strong words. Words that are still referenced in court cases. Letters that are still talked about. Areas and policy that are still ongoing. Yakama family connections are still strong and memories ache to be shared.

Importance for Today

Grandparents, even if we have not met them are special to us. What Yakamas stood up for with fishing rights and treaty boundary dispute remains with us. On this land, the Yakama path with the resources remains intertwined for thousands of years.

The historical examples are both inspirational and difficult to revisit. Louis Mann did not live to see the work he was a part of completed. It connects to a deep part of us that wants our work to be meaningful. Yet, can we withstand the challenges? Especially when we may not see the result. On the other hand, after decades, he is shown in history to have his words reaffirmed about treaty rights for fish and mountains.

Can we follow his example and dare to be vocal for treaty rights?  

His spoke and wrote even though he faced criticism. Some of his letters talk about loss. He also spoke for his rights and that of the tribe. He would see cases through the Supreme Court. Decades later his advocacy is affirmed. In this way, these words illuminate his pathway.  

May these two examples serve Yakamas and allies in our effort to speak for the resources and treaty rights.

What do you think Friends?

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  • Was very nice to read about this part of our history. This gets to live on many more generations. Look forward to reading more on this page.

    Scott Sampson Sr.

  • Thank you all for educating me!

    Lindsay Hashneth Maldonado

  • A correction to my first message. “The End of the Trail” was moved into a library, not removed entirely from campus.

    Richie Swanson

  • I live 1700 miles away but the posts remind me of three Native activists here in Minnesota. Anton Treuer in the book “Warrior Nation” describes how the state took un-ceded land on the Red Lake Reservation. He’s advocating to get it back. Linda LeGarde Grover (Ojibwa, Bois Forte band) has written two novels that shine the light on how tribal members work together to bring offspring back after they’re lost to foster systems etc. Kewencke Camacho (Prairie Band of Potowatami) helped change the way the local university here (Winona State) views Natives. She helped get an “End of the Trail” statue removed from campus and also helped to get WSU to divest in some areas from Wells Fargo. She bravely engaged the community and made change. Grover’s novels: Return to Sweetgrass and In the Night of Memory, due out in April, dedicated to all missing Native women.

    Richie Swanson

  • We have been in courts on our fishing rights and to barter trade and selling our fish and game. Most in sting operations thru the Lacey act. Of which I am cited. My next court in June 2019. Just trial.

    Simon Lee Sampson

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