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A Lawyer in Indian Country

A Memoir

by Alvin J. Ziontz

Publication Year: 2009

Published by: University of Washington Press


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pp. vi-vii

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Foreword by Charles Wilkinson

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pp. ix-xiii

When Al Ziontz made his first drive across the Olympic Peninsula to the Makah Indian Reservation in 1963 to meet with the tribal council, he had no grounding in Indian law or tribal life. He had represented members of a Makah family on miscellaneous civil matters and, out of intellectual curiosity, had done some reading on Indian law. ...

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pp. xv-xvi

I undertook this book at the urging of colleagues and friends who have heard me talk about my career as a tribal attorney. It is a story of my life in the law and my part in the making of Indian history. As I wrote, I had in mind young men and women who might be inspired by my personal history to become tribal attorneys themselves...

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pp. xvii-xviii

I want to express my gratitude to all the people who made this book possible. Old friends among the Indian people have taught me important lessons. Sadly, many are now gone, including Quentin Markishtum, Charlie Peterson, and Bruce Wilkie. But Ed Claplanhoo is still with us, and I thank him for the many kindnesses he and his wife, Thelma, have shown me. ...

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1. The Road to Neah Bay

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pp. 3-7

November is a dark, rainy month on the Pacific coast of Washington State. The light was already fading and rain was falling intermittently this late-fall night as I drove west to Neah Bay. It was 1963 and I was on my way to a meeting with the tribal council of the Makah Tribe, thinking about the possibility of becoming the tribe's attorney. ...

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2. The Road to Neah Bay Begins in Chicago

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pp. 8-13

I was born and raised in Chicago. my mother and father came to America from Russia before the First World War, among the flood of Jews leaving that country to look for a better life and freedom from persecution. Ultimately, both settled in Chicago. My mother, Rose Bolasny later changed to Block), left behind her entire family--parents, three sisters, and two brothers. ...

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3. The University of Chicago, the Army, and Seattle

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pp. 14-23

In the fall of 1948 I entered the law school of the University of Chicago. As I approached the law school for the first time, it looked intimidating. It was housed in a massive English Gothic stone structure dating from the early 1900s, and it stood apart from other buildings on campus. ...

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4. Becoming a Lawyer

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pp. 24-34

In September of 1954 I was discharged from the army, and Lennie, our two boys, and I drove up the West Coast in our 1947 Hudson. I was on my way to the life of a lawyer. I began as a law clerk for an attorney named Jerry Hile. I knew little about Hile, but several Seattle lawyers told me that he had a good reputation. ...

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5. Seven Years of Lawyering in West Seattle

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pp. 35-43

During Jerry Hile's absence, clients came to me with every imaginable kind of legal problem: wills, divorces, leases, contracts, real-estate transactions, bankruptcy, personal-injury claims, criminal cases, traffic cases, and even federal income tax returns--the subject I had failed in law school. Confronted with this variety, I was forced to research and analyze new areas of law constantly. ...

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6. Creating a Law Firm

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pp. 44-48

Leaving the sheltered life of an employee and becoming an independent lawyer, solely responsible for paying all the bills and earning enough to support my family, was both frightening and exhilarating. I knew I had to leave West Seattle if I wanted experience beyond run of the mill cases and clients. ...

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7. Indian Fishing Rights: Joining the Struggle

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pp. 49-58

That first year of Ziontz, Pirtle and Fulle was also the year of my first meeting with the Makah Tribal Council, courtesy of Bruce Wilkie. Three months after the Makah Tribe hired my firm, several members of the council came to Seattle. The chairman, Quentin "Squint" Markishtum, spoke for the group. ...

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8. The Makahs

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pp. 59-67

During my entire career in Indian law, the Makahs remained the touchstone of my Indian world. Neah Bay was the place that held the earliest and most important memories of Indian life for me, and Makah men and women were my teachers and my friends. For over thirty years I shared the triumphs and setbacks of this small tribe. ...

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9. Recovering Lost Property: Ozette, Tatoosh, and Waadah

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pp. 68-78

When I first began working with the Makahs, I heard vague allusions to Ozette, but didn't know what it was. In time I learned that it was one of the five major Makah villages, although no Makahs lived there now. While Ozette seemed only a distant memory, many Makahs traced their ancestry to the village, and the oldest Makahs recalled growing up there, about twenty miles south of the reservation along the Pacific coast. ...

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10. The Lummi Tribe

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pp. 79-81

Being a tribal attorney meant attending innumerable meetings and conferences with Indian leaders. One of the most colorful and nicest I ever met was Sam Cagey of the Lummi Tribe. His sheer physical presence was overpowering. He had broad, powerful shoulders and a massive torso. ...

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11. Indian Fishing Rights: Eighty Years of Suppression, Twenty Years of Confrontation

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pp. 82-91

The United States made solemn promises to the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, assurances that they could carry on their fishing without interference. Those promises were forgotten when the newly created state of Washington found Indian fishing to be in the way of a fledgling industry--commercial salmon fishing. ...

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12. The Big Bang: U.S. v. Washington Begins

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pp. 92-99

Two rivers were the focus of almost all the litigation over treaty rights in the state of Washington: the Puyallup, which empties into Puget Sound within the city limits of Tacoma, and the Nisqually, which flows from the Cascade Mountains into Puget Sound east of Olympia. ...

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13. U.S. v. Washington: The Trial

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pp. 100-115

U.S. v. Washington was filed in September of 1970, but pretrial depositions and preparation of biological and ethnological reports consumed more than two years. The case did not come to trial until August 27, 1973. ...

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14. U.S. v. Washington: Closing Arguments and Judge Boldt's Decision

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pp. 116-126

Closing arguments in U.S. v. Washington were set for December 10, 1973, more than three weeks after the last day of the trial. There was an air of excitement in Judge Boldt's courtroom when the day came. All of us were aware of the momentous implications of this case; we had come to the final act in this three-year-long drama. ...

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15. The U.S. Supreme Court Has the Last Word: Consequences of the Boldt Decision

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pp. 127-133

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the state's appeal of the Ninth Circuit's confirmation of Judge Boldt's decision. But then the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state had no right and no duty to enforce the federal decision. ...

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16. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

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pp. 134-145

The reputation of what was then known as Ziontz, Pirtle and Morisset for vigorous defense of tribal sovereignty led another major tribal client to retain our firm, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. They are known as, and call themselves, simply Colvilles. The Colville Indian Reservation is big--1.4 million acres in northcentral Washington. ...

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17. The Northern Cheyennes Fight Strip-Mining

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pp. 146-158

In 1973, I received a phone call from a young Indian named George Crossland. George was an Osage from Oklahoma whom I had met in 1971 when he was a student at the University of Chicago Law School. I had been in Chicago for a class reunion, and I stopped at the school to watch a moot court argument. ...

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18. The Northern Cheyennes and the Hollowbreast Case

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pp. 159-165

While the Northern Cheyenne tribe no longer had to fear coal mining resulting from the discredited exploration permits, a new threat appeared with the 1974 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Hollowbreast v. Northern Cheyenne Tribe.1 The case involved a strange combination of circumstances that could only happen in Indian country. ...

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19. The Oliphant Case: A Setback for Tribal Government

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pp. 166-171

Our firm's record of success in the U.S. Supreme Court was extraordinary--victory after victory, with only one partial loss. But litigating Indian rights in the Supreme Court was a high-risk undertaking, often asking the Court to rule against local citizens or state governments on issues at the cutting edge of the law. ...

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20. Writing about the Indian Civil Rights Act

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pp. 172-179

For years the American Civil Liberties Union struggled with what its policy should be regarding Indians. On the one hand, the ACLU recognized American Indians as an ethnic minority with a long history of oppression and exploitation. ...

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21. Leaving Law for Academia

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pp. 180-190

Writing the law review articles had taken me into the world of scholarship. In 1972, a friend at the University of Washington asked if I would be willing to teach a course in Indian law in the Indian Studies Department. The idea was attractive and I agreed. I taught only one quarter, but three years later the department asked if I would teach the class again. ...

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22. A Firm of Tribal Attorneys

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pp. 191-197

i was a tribal attorney for thirty years, all spent in the environment of a law firm. A law firm can be a group of lawyers bound together only by economic ties, or it can be an entity with a group character, bound together by shared values. ...

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23. Representing Fishermen of the Alaska Peninsula

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pp. 198-202

After the firm split, those of us remaining were considerably buoyed when a group of fishermen in Alaska called asking to meet with us. The group was the Peninsula Marketing Association, taking its name from their location on the Alaska Peninsula. They wanted to talk to us, they said, because of our expertise in representing the Makahs...

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24. The Mille Lacs Band of Chippewas

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pp. 203-215

I had no awareness, and certainly no knowledge, of the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewas before they contacted us in 1983. But this very interesting band became our clients, and in the years that followed we immersed ourselves in their legal problems. Their home is at Mille Lacs Lake, which lies 100 miles north of Minneapolis. ...

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25. The Wanda Boswell Case

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pp. 216-225

In 1984, I brought a lawsuit on behalf of a young woman who lived on the Mille Lacs reservation, Wanda Boswell. It is a case I have never forgotten. It began with a call from Jay Kanassetega from the reservation. "Niji," he said, when I picked up the phone, and I knew it was Jay. He always called me Niji, Ojibwe for "friend." ...

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26. The Northern Arapaho Tribe

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pp. 226-235

In January of 1992 our firm received an unusual communication in the mail: an invitation from the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming seeking law firms to apply as the tribe's general counsel. We had never seen anything like it. In our experience, this was not the way tribes went about selecting a tribal attorney. ...

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27. Photographing the Northern Cheyennes

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pp. 236-252

As my sixty-fifth birthday neared, I began to think of retirement. I decided to retire at the end of 1994, when I would be sixty-six. My partners accepted my announcement graciously, and a small celebration dinner was planned at a downtown restaurant. ...

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28. The Makah Whale Hunt

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pp. 253-264

One evening in the spring of 1997, I received a phone call at home from Ben Johnson Jr., chairman of the Makah Tribe. It was very unusual to get a call at home from the chairman, especially because it had been three years since I had retired. The tribe wanted me to help them in connection with the whaling controversy that had erupted. ...

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29. A Life in Being

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pp. 265-270

I am old now, eighty at my last birthday. often I reflect on my improbable career. As a shy, only child of middle-class Jewish parents, ambiguous about my Jewishness, certain only of my idealism, I seemed to drift into the profession of law. Starting at the lowest rung, I struggled to teach myself the skills of a lawyer. ...


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pp. 271-279

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 281-283


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pp. 285-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780295800202
E-ISBN-10: 0295800208
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295989358
Print-ISBN-10: 0295989351

Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Ziontz, Alvin J.
  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Indians of North America -- Civil rights.
  • Indians of North America -- Legal status, laws, etc.
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