NORTHWEST WANDERINGS | Three decades after the “Salmonscam” trial, David Sohappy Sr. is remembered for his role in the fight over tribal treaty fishing rights.

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At noon, on the highest hill in Toppenish Creek Cemetery above White Swan in Yakima County, three of the principals in “Salmonscam” have come to pay their respects to David Sohappy Sr. on the 30th anniversary of their appearance in Yakama Tribal Court.

It also would have been Sohappy’s 92nd birthday. David Sohappy Jr., Wilbur Slockish and their attorney Tom Keefe Jr. gather at the Sohappy family graves where the elder Sohappy was buried in 1991. The wind here is a constant and carries the feather song sung by his son. Salmonscam was an undercover federal sting operation targeting tribal members catching and selling fish out of season. Keefe says, “He’s like Chief Joseph, just a great man, but they treated him like Geronimo.” He was the “Martin Luther King of Indian fishing rights,” Keefe says. Federal authorities believed as many as 40,000 fish were being taken illegally by a ring of tribal members led by Sohappy Sr. But Sohappy believed he had a “God-given right to fish the river following proper religious ceremony honoring the return of the salmon.” He said, “I’m not going to get a license to practice my religion.” As a result, federal agents continually confiscated his nets, a total of more than 300 over time. He would put in at Cooks Landing along the Columbia River, where he and his family lived in a dirt-floored, woodstove-heated home he had built. The elder Sohappy was charged with illegally taking 317 salmon, his son with 28 fish and Slockish with 16. In a federal courtroom, he and his son received a five-year sentence. Slockish got three years. Sohappy Jr. says the feds “wanted us to sign an apology and gain early release. We refused” and wound up spending 22 months in numerous prisons around the country, including Leavenworth in Kansas. Slockish calls it “diesel therapy” to make it difficult for family to visit. Keefe says it’s also to disorient. He says the family sent an eagle feather to the elder Sohappy in prison. It came back with a form: “Rejected. Content: one eagle feather.”