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Tuesday, May 7, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Indian Fishing Activist David Sohappy Sr. Dies

David Sohappy Sr., a longtime Native American rights activist in Washington state, died last night at the Hood River Care Center in Hood River, Ore.

Sohappy, 66, was being treated for the effects of a stroke suffered in January.

Sohappy died at 10:55 p.m., said Joy Plett of the care center.

The stroke that put him in the hospital occurred at his home along the Columbia River Gorge at Cooks Landing. Sohappy had suffered two previous strokes while in federal prison after his conviction on salmon-poaching charges.

Tom Keefe, a lawyer and longtime friend, called Sohappy "the Martin Luther King of fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest."

"It's a personal loss," Keefe said by phone from Washington, D.C. this morning. "Over the past five years David and I became close friends.

"I think it's clear when you look at various cases and his lifelong struggle that he was one of the unique leaders in the Pacific Northwest and he was known internationally as a fighter of Indian fishing rights."

In a long-standing battle to assert tribal fishing rights, Sohappy was arrested numerous times and had 230 fishing nets confiscated over 20 years because of his insistence on fishing out of season on the Columbia River.

He was eventually imprisoned for selling illegal salmon during a federal sting operation dubbed "Salmonscam." He always maintained that he was a victim of entrapment.

Sohappy had phoned Keefe weekly since his release from prison in 1988. Keefe and Sohappy became friends when Keefe represented Sohappy in efforts to get the Salmonscam case retried in tribal court.

Sohappy's physician notified Keefe of Sohappy's death at 3 a.m. today. Keefe flew back to the Northwest later in the morning to be with the Sohappy family and deliver a handwritten message from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Tonight, a traditional Native American seven-drum religious service is being planned at Cooks Landing. A similar service is planned for tomorrow morning at the Toppenish Creek Longhouse in Toppenish, south of Yakima.

Burial is to be Thursday at sunrise at the White Swan Cemetery in White Swan, on the Yakima Indian Reservation., Sohappy was born in 1925 in Harrah, Yakima County. He is survived by his wife, Myra; seven children, including David Sohappy Jr., also an Indian-rights activist; and two sisters.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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