Islander's initiative attacks tribal rights

Yet another John Q. Public is taking the proverbial bull by the horns, this time in the form of a citizens initiative seeking to disarm the decades-old rules on tribal rights.

Inspired by the recent successes of initiative guru Tim Eyman, Oak Harbor resident Omer Lupien is driving a state ballot initiative that would add a section to Washington state law essentially repealing any special rights granted to state tribes. The meat of the measure reads: "Any right, activity or privilege afforded the tribes of Washington state shall be shared equally and in common with the citizens of Washington state."

Lupien, a lifelong hunter, hiker and sometimes commercial fisherman, said last week that the wording of the initiative is a deliberate reversal of a controversial 1973 court ruling, known as the Bolt decision, that split state fishing rights equally between Native American and non-tribal fishermen.

Lupien argues that his proposed initiative seeks to level the playing field after years of federal mismanagement.

"What the government has done is created a class of super-citizens that are immune from our law," he said.

He said giving Native Americans preferential treatment in the area of fishing rights allows them to make "huge sums" of money on what he sees as a fishing monopoly. The additional fishing rights serve as a payoff after years of abuses perpetrated against Native Americans by Anglo Americans, Lupien said.

Lupien said he knows older fishermen who have spent their lives battling the effects of the Bolt decision. Until now, however, no one has ever succeeded in putting the issue on the ballot.

"The inspiration was watching the Tim Eyman deal," Lupien said, referring to the Mukilteo businessman whose most recent initiative, 747, capped annual property tax collection at 1 percent.

Right now, Lupien is ramping up for a big push for the September 2003 general election. He tried to hit this year's deadline for filing, but realized too late that he couldn't get the requisite 200,000 signatures by July 5. A bigger campaign was needed, he said, with a more comprehensive strategy that could embrace potential supporters throughout the state. Resources also became an issue.

"I nearly went broke doing this out of my pocket," he said.

Lupien said he now understands that in order to spearhead a strong ballot initiative, he's going to have to get help. He said he doesn't like to ask for money, having been imbued throughout his life with a strong work ethic and pride of independence.

Big-time politics, however, is a different matter, Lupien said. He wants his petitions placed in key areas -- sporting goods stores and such -- as well as circulated by either partisan volunteers or paid activists. Lupien is even thinking of setting up campaign booths at rod-and-reel type conventions statewide.

Whether his initiative gets approved or not, Lupien's campaign is sure to encounter resistance, from advocates of aboriginal rights as well as tribal members themselves. He said he realizes not the least of the criticism leveled against him will be the charge of racism, for which he says he's ready to defend himself.

"I have absolutely nothing against Indians," Lupien said.

He said tribes now are merely "using their heritage as a means of making a large amount of money."

"I feel that all the rights and privileges that the tribes are getting are detrimental to the welfare of our nation," he said. "The further we stray from the principles of the Constitution, the quicker is going to be the downfall of our country."

Lupien said that without state or federal regulation, fish resources will be depleted. This has pushed Puget Sound to "the brink of extinction," he said, while fishermen in such places as Bristol Bay, Alaska -- where there is no Bolt ruling -- enjoy runs of fish that are growing all the time.

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