As the Quinault Indian Nation continues to assert its authority over Lake Quinault, non-tribal property owners are quickly growing concerned about their rights over land they’ve owned for years — sometimes decades.
The nation sent out letters to 58 lakefront property owners at the end of June asking them to remove all docks, bulkheads, pipes and other foreign matter from the lake, stating that the structures had been placed in the lake illegally. The letter asks property owners to apply for permits to remove structures by July 31, and says work must be completed within six months of receiving a permit.
“The Nation is embarking on a comprehensive strategy to address water quality issues in Lake Quinault in order to support our efforts to restore habitat for blueback salmon — a run of sockeye unique to the Quinault River system. As part of that effort, we are requesting all landowners remove all unpermitted structures,” the letter reads.
Tom Landreth, a long-time Lake Quinault property owner, is one of many who received the letter. He said his wife’s family have owned property on the lake since the 1930s, purchased from a family of homesteaders that acquired the land in the 1860s. So if anyone has rights to the land, it’s his family, he said.
Landreth said he’s always gone out of the way to purchase whatever permits the Quinault Indian Nation requires, including an annual fishing license to use the lake. His family’s dock has been in the lake since the 1940s, and Landreth said he sees fish seek shelter in its shade every summer.
“We’ve been there so long, why would we not want to take care of the lake? Why would we want to contaminate it?” Landreth said. “There has to be another reason why they’re asking us to take the docks out.”
The Quinault Indian Nation has a right to govern the lake that dates back to the 1855 Treaty of Olympia and President Ulysses S. Grant’s 1873 executive order regarding the reservation, according to a document compiled by the United States Department of the Interior Office of the Solicitor. Steve Robinson, a spokesman for the Quinault Indian Nation, provided the document to The Daily World.
“The Quinault, at the time the reservation was established, depended on fish for their livelihood. President Grant acknowledged this dependence when he set apart reservation land for ‘fish-eating Indians.’ A court would most likely construe the language of the 1885 Treaty in conjunction with the Presidential intent of the 1873 executive order to reserve the bed and waters of Lake Quinault to the Tribe because the lake comprised an essential fishing ground,” the document reads.
Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp said all lakefront property owners can expect the same treatment: all structures in the lake have to go, and there are no circumstances in which docks and other structures will be allowed in the lake.
She argues that the docks shouldn’t have been built to begin with.
“Noted structures and intrusions shouldn’t have been built in the first place without the permission of the Quinault regulatory authorities,” Sharp said. “They are an illegal encroachment on tribal property and are in violation of the jurisdictional authority of the Quinault government.”
The nation hasn’t yet outlined any fines or punishments for property owners who fail to remove their structures within the given time frame, but Sharp said violations will be “enforced to meet our standards of health, safety and sustainability.”
The request to remove docks and other structures is the latest in an ever-growing list of bans and restrictions issued by the Quinault Indian Nation in recent months. In April, the nation closed Lake Quinault to all non-tribal fishing, citing water quality concerns. In early June, officials closed the lake to non-tribal swimming and boating, once again citing pollution.
But just in time for the Fourth of July, the Quinault Indian Nation opened the lake to all swimming — making sure to note that the lake is still polluted, and swimmers enter the water at their own risk.
Sharp frequently references pollution “hot spots” in her press releases, but hasn’t yet provided specific water quality data. She frequently states that it’s the nation’s intent to preserve the lake for future generations.
Landreth said he wants the lake to be available to future generations of his family, too. But he’s worried that with the nation’s restrictions on lake use, this might not be an option.
“One of the things Quinaults always say they’re concerned with is preserving their heritage,” Landreth said. “But my family also has heritage at the lake. And I want to preserve my heritage, too.”