The Fort Lawton protests didn’t come out of nowhere. A complex set of circumstances dating back over a century prefigured what would erupt in March 1970.

1854-1855: Representatives from Puget Sound tribes sign the Treaty of Point Elliott and Treaty of Medicine Creek, ceding millions of acres to the U.S. in exchange for reservations and permanent recognition of hunting and fishing rights.

1865: The new municipality of Seattle enacts a law forbidding Native people from living within town limits, unless employed by a non-Native person.

1945: A 14-year-old Nisqually boy named Billy Frank Jr. is arrested for “illegal” fishing. He will become a fishing-rights activist, arrested over 50 times in the coming decades.

1953: U.S. Congress begins its policy of “termination,” a nearly 20-year project aiming to dissolve tribes, liquidate their assets and relocate Native people to cities with pledges of help — often unfulfilled — once they they’d moved.

1958: Seven Native women found the American Indian Women’s Service League, providing much-needed social services to Native people in Seattle.


Mid-1960s: Fishing conflicts in South Puget Sound escalate; celebrities (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dick Gregory, Marlon Brando) help raise national awareness.

1964: U.S. Defense Department announces 85% of the roughly 1,000-acre Fort Lawton will become surplus.

November 1969: Native activists land at Alcatraz Island, beginning a 19-month occupation.

1969-1970: Native organizers in Seattle approach the city and U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, D-Wash., about a social-services and cultural center on the surplus Fort Lawton acreage. They are rebuffed.

March 1970: Activists stage protests at Fort Lawton, climbing its fences and bluffs, and establish a monthlong camp at its front gates. United Indians of All Tribes is founded.

September 1970: Tacoma police arrest 60 people during a dramatic clash along the Puyallup River after state officials try to remove fishing nets.


November 1971: Ending months of negotiation, the city of Seattle agrees to lease around 20 acres of the Fort Lawton property to United Indians for 99 years. Hundreds of surrounding acres will become Discovery Park.

1974: Federal District Judge George Hugo Boldt writes the far-reaching Boldt decision, affirming Native treaty fishing rights.

1975: After bureaucratic and legal challenges — including a Magnolia resident who obtained a restraining order blocking the necessary building permits — construction begins on Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.

1977: Daybreak Star opens.