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Originally published July 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 3, 2009 at 11:14 AM

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Corrected version

Alison Bridges Gottfriedson fought for Indian treaty rights

Tribal-treaty fishing-rights activist and former Puyallup tribal councilwoman Alison Bridges Gottfriedson is dead at 57.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Alison Bridges Gottfriedson, nationally celebrated as a warrior for Indian treaty rights, is mourned this week by Indian activists from around the country following her sudden death July 18 from a stroke. She was 57.

Born Oct. 18, 1951, in Tacoma, Mrs. Gottfriedson for most of her life was enrolled in the Puyallup Tribe and served two terms on the tribal council. She recently changed her enrollment to the Squaxin Island Tribe.

Mrs. Gottfriedson was most famous for her activism on behalf of treaty-fishing rights during the 1960s and '70s, literally becoming the poster child for the movement when, as a young woman, she was photographed as a Washington state game agent twisted her arms behind her during a 1970 raid on a Puyallup riverbank fish encampment.

State officials at the time scoffed at the fish-ins on the banks of the Puyallup and Nisqually rivers. But public sentiment was affected by the spectacle of women, children such as Mrs. Gottfriedson, and her uncle, Billy Frank Jr., arrested time and again for fishing. When Marlon Brando joined the fish-ins, the movement was catapulted to national fame.

Carol Burns, a documentary film maker, captured the drama in her 1971 film As Long as the Rivers Run. She remembered Mrs. Gottfriedson as a brave young girl, who while slight in stature, never backed down. "It was not as though she at some point decided to join the struggle," Burns said. "She was born to it."

Before she was even 3 years old, Mrs. Gottfriedson was watching as her father, Alvin Bridges, was arrested outside their home for fishing. She could not know at the time that she, too, would be arrested over and over, throughout her life, said Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal elder and chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

"She spent a lifetime, fighting for our rights, just time after time, fishing and going to jail," Frank said. "She was just a rock, she was just solid, and always there. She represented all of us tribal people that are now free to fish, to dig clams, to dive and make a living on geoducks."

The fish-ins lead to the filing of the U.S. v. Washington lawsuit decided with the landmark 1974 Boldt decision, affirming Western Washington treaty tribes' right to half the catch.

Subsequent decisions from that case have since affirmed tribal-treaty rights to harvest shellfish and required the state to fix road culverts blocking salmon passage.

Mrs. Gottfriedson embroiled herself in many causes throughout her life, from starting and serving as chair of the Wha-he-lut Indian School at Nisqually, to her conviction with her husband in 2007 for selling cigarettes from a trading post at the Frank's Landing Indian Community near Olympia.

Mrs. Gottfriedson maintained that the sales went to fund the school and other community interests.

Government agents raided the smokeshop in May 2007, and Mrs. Gottfriedson and her husband, Henry, pleaded guilty to felony charges of selling contraband cigarettes last August.

The two were not sentenced to jail time but were ordered to make restitution to the state for millions of dollars in back cigarette taxes.

Mrs. Gottfriedson lived at Frank's Landing Indian Community near Olympia throughout her life. She is survived by her husband, of Frank's Landing; sister Suzette Bridges of Yelm, Thurston County; sons Adochas of Olympia and Spap-ull of Frank's Landing; mother Maisell McCloud Bridges of Frank's Landing and seven grandchildren. She was preceded in death by sister Valerie Bridges, and her father, Alvin James Bridges, also of Frank's Landing.

Services were held at the WaHeLut Indian School.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or

The information in this article, originally published July 24, 2009, was corrected. The photo of Alison Bridges Gottfriedson accompanying her obituary contained on incorrect caption. It should have included the photographer's credit, Dolores Varela Phillips

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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