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Yakama Victory: Federal District Court Rules Members Can Sell Fireworks on Tribal Lands

A federal judge for the Eastern District of Washington has ruled in favor of the rights of Yakama Nation members to sell fireworks despite state laws against it. 

The conflict started last summer, leading up to the Fourth of July. Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer issued cease-and-desist orders under Washington State fireworks laws against five Tribal members, who were operating fireworks stands in Wishram, a Tribal community along the Columbia River Gorge within Klickitat County.

The United States holds land outside the Yakama Reservation within Klickitat County in trust for the benefit of the Yakama Nation and its enrolled members. The off-reservation trust allotments are considered ‘Indian Country’ for jurisdictional purposes, within which the state cannot exercise civil regulatory authority over enrolled Yakama members. The Yakama Nation exercises its authority by licensing and regulating Yakama Members who operate firework stands on off-reservation trust allotments. So the Yakama Nation sued Sheriff Songer and Klickitat County in federal court, challenging the Sheriff’s unlawful assertion of civil regulatory jurisdiction, and obtained a temporary restraining order before seeking a final judgment.

In ruling for the Yakama Nation, the Court held that Klickitat County “may not enforce Washington’s fireworks laws against Yakama Members on the Yakama Reservation and Yakama Trust Allotments through its criminal Public Law 280 jurisdiction.”

The Yakama Nation has praised the ruling as a victory for Tribal sovereignty.

“Today the court upheld the Yakama Nation’s inherent sovereign rights reserved by our ancestors in the Treaty of 1855. The Yakama Nation has safely regulated our member-owned firework stands for decades without state intrusion, and with today’s order we can look forward to another safe and successful fireworks season this summer,” said Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goud in a statement.

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