TOPPENISH -- Alvin Settler was a river warrior, learned in the law, and became an integral part of maintaining local tribes' right to continue fishing on the Columbia, friends of the former tribal judge say.
Settler, a well-respected figure in the Yakama Nation, died Friday at age 83. Much of his life was spent fighting for tribal rights as well as clarifying and testing the law.
In the 1950s and '60s, when the federal and state government tried to curtail tribal rights to fish on the Columbia -- after many tribal members had moved onto reservations -- Settler refused to stop fishing in the Yakamas' traditional waters. He and his older brother, Homer, were involved in numerous court cases that helped establish the Yakama tribe's jurisdiction over its members even off the reservation.
"He was very instrumental in helping maintain the rights of the Yakama to fish on the Columbia," said Russell Jim, a tribal councilmember and elder. "He fought for the right to have the fish, not just for commercial reasons, but for the health" of the Yakama people who had depended on fishing throughout their history.
Only four tribes in the Columbia River area exercise their treaty right to up to half of all the fish that are available for harvest at their accustomed fishing locations. Yakamas led that effort, said John Platt, who knew Settler for several decades and worked with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.