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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
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.
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
used in Chief Leschi’s defense.
continued on back
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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