Film Showing: River People
About River People
RIVER PEOPLE follows the story of David Sohappy, a Native American spiritual leader who was sentenced to a five year prison term for selling 317 salmon out of season.
Sohappy became a symbol of resistance for indigenous people of the United States and beyond. RIVER PEOPLE uses Sohappy's case to explore the historic controversy over fishing rights and the right to religious freedom. Behind the controversy is a story of a man caught in a conflict between two cultures and two seemingly irreconcilable ways of looking at the world.
About David Sohappy, Sr.
Born and raised on the Yakama reservation in south-central Washington, David Sohappy began catching salmon at age five and spent much of each year along the Columbia River. "That is where I learned about Indian language and religion," he recalled. "I remember going to the longhouse from way back then, as my parents were firm believers in the Seven Drums or Washat religion." In 1965, Sohappy moved his family to Cook's Landing, an in-lieu fishing site built at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River to replace traditional locations flooded by Bonneville Dam. There they became embroiled in the growing controversy between the tribes and the states over off-reservation fishing rights.
By the mid-1960s, Oregon and Washington had been prosecuting tribal fishers for fifty years, claiming that treaty rights did not exempt Indians from state regulation. In 1968, tired of shouldering the burden of conservation and the blame for depleted salmon populations, Sohappy and thirteen others filed a lawsuit against Oregon Fish Commissioner McKee Smith to prevent further state interference with their rights under the 1855 Yakama treaty.