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SKILL SHARPENER

University of Washington’s Native American Law Center Involved in Trial of Nisqually Chief [by Erica Winter] Both professors and students with the University of Washington’s Native American Law Center assisted members of the Nisqually Tribe in its recent fight to change history.

Almost 150 years ago, Chief Leschi of the

native Hawaiians on behalf of the federal

Nisqually Tribe was accused of murdering

government for the overthrow of the Hawai-

On a practical level, the center’s faculty

A.B. Moses, a member of the Washington

ian queen and native government. Advocates

and students work on cases involving tribal

Territorial Militia. Chief Leschi was tried,

used this resolution as part of the justifica-

issues, such as the Chief Leschi exonera-

found guilty, and executed in 1858. A “His-

tion for establishing a historical court.

torical Court of Inquiry and Justice” ruled

tion effort, and also train tribal members to advocate for others in tribal courts and assist

December 10 that the original trial should

The Washington State Supreme Court case

state and federal governments as mediators

never have happened.

used on behalf of the Nisqually cause was

in Indian legal issues and as advisors.

that of Takuji Yamashita, a law student at The 19th-Century civilian court did not have

the University of Washington from 1899 to

For example, Anderson and Professor Ron

jurisdiction in the case, ruled the modern

1901 and a member of the law school’s first

Whitener, Co-Director of the center, will

panel, which was headed by Chief Justice

graduating class.

work together to help the Makah Nation develop its own bar exam. They will also

Gerry Alexander of the Washington State Upon graduation, Yamashita was refused

work with the Squaxin Island Tribe to look at

admission to the bar. He challenged his ex-

the tribe’s criminal system, suggest changes,

Because there was a war between the United

clusion in 1902, and Washington’s Supreme

and help train staff there, says Whitener.

States and the Nisqually when Moses died,

Court ruled that Asians could not become

if Chief Leschi killed Moses, it was an act

citizens and that only citizens could practice

University of Washington law students help in

of war, not murder. In addition, given there

law in the United States. Yamashita never

all areas of the center’s work, says Ander-

was testimony at the original trial that Chief

became a lawyer.

Supreme Court.

Leschi was far away from the scene of the

son, coming with him to meetings, doing research, and doing “all the things you do as

killing, there is even a possibility that Chief

Yamashita’s descendants from Japan, the

Leschi never killed Moses in the first place.

Asian Bar Association of Washington, and the

a lawyer,” he says.

University of Washington petitioned the State

In the recent Chief Leschi historical trial,

The people of the Nisqually Tribe were “front

Supreme Court, which has authority over bar

the court’s ruling had no financial impact or

and center on this, not lawyers,” says Robert

admission, to posthumously admit Yamashi-

effect on land use or inheritance. The effort

Anderson, Director of the Native American

ta. The Supreme Court admitted him as an

went forward “to remove this stain from his

Law Center at the University of Washington

honorary member on March 1, 2001.

reputation,” says Anderson. Chief Leschi “is

and one of the lawyers working on the case

regarded as a hero,” says Anderson, and not

with the tribe. Still, University of Washington

This case was used to show the precedent

law students did pull together some legal

and justification of the state undoing past

research that assisted the tribe. One federal

injustice, even when the wronged party is

In Seattle, there is a neighborhood and an

resolution and one Washington State Su-

deceased and the remedy is symbolic.

elementary school named after Chief Leschi.

preme Court case found by the students were

only by the Nisqually people.

There is even a United States government The law students working on the case are

building named after Chief Leschi on the Fort

affiliated with the school’s Native American

Lewis military base in Washington. To have

The resolution brought forward is the 1993

Law Center, which offers both academic and

the murder conviction standing “was intoler-

Native Hawaiian Apology Resolution, in which

practical contributions to the field of Indian

able,” says Anderson.

the United States Congress apologized to

law.

used in Chief Leschi’s defense.

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SKILL SHARPENER

The Historical Court was convened after the State Supreme Court ruled it could not retry the case. Because the defendant is dead, he has no standing to pursue the case, and the original conviction is moot. The trial served to exonerate Chief Leschi for the historical record if not the legal one.

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University of Washington's Native American Law Center Involved in Trial of Nisqually Chief