Alaska Pacific Fisheries v. United States
In Alaska Pacific Fisheries v. United States, 248 U.S. 78, 39 S.Ct. 40, 63 L.Ed. 138 (1918), the Metlakahtla Indians, whose reservation consisted of a group of small islands, sought to prevent non-Indian fishing within the island's tidewaters. Id. at 86, 39 S.Ct. at 41.
The Court treated the issue as one of language interpretation--"what Congress intended by the words--the body of lands known as Annette islands.' " Id. at 87, 39 S.Ct. at 41.
To answer that question, the Court reviewed, inter alia, the Congressional purpose in creating the reservation. It found that Congress sought to establish an Indian colony which would be self-sustaining. Id. at 89, 39 S.Ct. at 42.
To achieve that purpose, the Court reasoned, Congress must have intended the tribe to have the exclusive use of adjacent fishing grounds because it was clear after reviewing the resources of the islands that the Metlakahtlans "could not sustain themselves from the use of the upland alone." Id.
Thus the Court, again construing doubtful expression in favor of the Indians, concluded that Congress intended that the reservation embrace the surrounding waters of the islands. Id.
In Alaska Pacific Fisheries, 248 U.S. at 87, 39 S.Ct. at 41, the Supreme Court noted that Congress had reserved "the body of lands known as Annette islands" with no mention of whether the grant included tidelands and other submerged lands.
The Court looked beyond the words of the grant to conclude that Congress intended to include the disputed lands surrounding the islands, based on the Indians' reliance on those water resources for their subsistence. Id. at 89, 39 S.Ct. at 42.