Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lummi Tidelands

On a trip to Sandy Point I took a walk out onto the broad tide flats of Lummi Bay. The tide was far out during my visit and the water was perhaps a mile distant. The day was hot and with the dark silt and little wind it was a toasty walk - a rather different experience compared to the typical tideland walks on the cool shores of Washington.

The broad tide lands are part of the Lummi Nation Reservation. President Grant issued an Executive Order expanding the Lummi Reservation in 1873 to include all the tidelands extending to the "low-water mark on the shore of the Gulf of Georgia". The idea was that the broad tide flats were very much a part of the Lummi's homeland. Walking out on the tide flats of Lummi Bay is a lesson that President Grant's Executive Order was no small thing - the tideland areas cover miles of tideland.

View south across the Lummi Bay tideland to Lummi Island
The southern part of Sandy Point is on the right

View west to Sandy Point Spit with
Orcas Island and Mount Constitution in the distance

View east towards the mainland

There have been numerous court cases associated with the Lummi tidelands and trespass, encroachment and ownership. In recent years there were extended federal cases at Sandy Point where shore defense works were built (US v Milner and Nicholson). The short story is that the U.S. government owns the tidelands in trust for the tribe and as a trustee has defended that ownership and essentially won every time. The U.S. v Milner case has an interesting discussion on tide land boundaries that starts with:  "The problem of riparian and littoral property boundaries is a recurring and difficult issue. These disputes can be especially complicated where the land borders tidal waters, because the waters fluctuate dramatically and because private title claims often have to be balanced against federal and state interests in the ownership and use of the submerged lands." Milner and neighbors were dealing the U.S. Government acting as a trustee and not with the State of Washington or a private tide land owner. An interesting read for shoreline policy and law wonks. 

1 comment:

Geoffrey Middaugh said...

This was fun to read, as I hadn't read US v. Milner. The sanctity of trust lands, are pretty well settled law, I would hope, and the concept of equal footing doesn't have much traction except with lawyers who are making a lot of money exploiting the ideological position versus the law. I was surprised to see equal footing as a challenge of federal trust responsibilities. Now what's really good for exciting the policy wonks, is Northwest Sea Farms. v. COE (1996) where the treaty rights are extended beyond the specific trust lands, and give legal legs to the 1855 treaties beyond just the Boldt decision. GPT take note. It doesn't apply to the huckleberries in my yard, yet, however.