Lauren King

A Strong Advocate for Native American Rights

H

ow do you prove where an indigenous people fished in the ocean in 1855? That’s what Lauren King '08 had to figure out in order to win a recent federal case.

King, who was recently named partner at Foster Pepper in Seattle, serves as lead outside counsel in natural resource and treaty rights matters for the Quileute Tribe. The tribe lives on the coast of Washington state and is well-known due to being featured in the “Twilight” books and film series.

“It is not easy to find evidence from a time before written records were kept, but with how much was at stake for the Quileute, we were determined to protect their rights,” said King, herself a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

In 2009, the Makah Tribe sued its neighbors to the south, the Quileute and the Quinault nations, requesting that the court limit their treaty-based fishing areas in the Pacific Ocean to only 5-10 miles offshore. Boundaries are established in court by showing where a tribe customarily fished during treaty times — circa 1855.

To prove where Quileute tribe members fished, King and her team worked with an array of experts in the fields of linguistics, archaeology, marine biology and anthropology to analyze the evidence and present a comprehensive picture of Quileute ocean fishing. The case culminated in the spring of 2015 after a 23-day trial involving nine expert witnesses and 472 admitted exhibits.

King, who also serves as an appellate judge for the Northwest Intertribal Court System, said that the trial was more emotional than she had anticipated.

“It was painful to watch attorneys and experts hired by the other side come into court and essentially argue that everything the Quileute people believed about themselves and their culture was wrong,” she said. During her closing argument, King emphasized that the case was about more than fishing to the Quileute — it was about their cultural identity.

The Quileute prevailed at trial — the court held that fishing rights extended 40 miles offshore. The case is now on appeal.

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