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Quileute Elder Christian “Jiggs” Penn 1929-2010
Memorial service information: Friday, Dec. 17 - Dinner 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17 at Shaker Church in LaPush, candlelight service 7 p.m. at A-Ka-Lat Center; Saturday, Dec. 18 Memorial service A-Ka-Lat Center 9 a.m., graveside services 11 a.m. at the Quileute Cemetery.
Imagine being the only Quileute tribal member to testify in federal court in front of an angry group of sports fishermen. Imagine walking up the courthouse steps with hundreds of protestors hollering racial slurs at you, hurling objects towards you, with one woman in close proximity even spitting in your face.
Christian E. Penn Jr., also known as Jiggs, does not need to imagine. He experienced all of this tension during the well-known 1974 lawsuit of United States v. Washington, also known as the Boldt Decision. Judge George Boldt presided over the case. The United States and tribes sued the state of Washington for continuously violating treaty fishing rights, and the tribes were worried because Judge Boldt was fairly conservative in his rulings.
Jiggs’ legacy is the Boldt Decision. He considers it his greatest accomplishment. Through his testifying, he contributed to the decision which was favorable for the tribes. Judge Boldt decided that because of the language used in the treaties, tribes were guaranteed a right of fifty percent of harvestable fish. It was a major win for Washington state tribes.
In order to cover travel expenses for fish meetings and the trial, Jiggs says he “had to fish like crazy.” The tribe did not pay representatives back then. Council members were not paid either. Jiggs also says all the traveling he did took a toll on his cars. Everything Jiggs did for the tribe was at his own expense.
At one point during the trial, Jiggs and Judge Boldt had dinner together. Boldt walked into a crowded restaurant and the only seat available was next to Jiggs. Although Jiggs said he felt funny eating next to Judge Boldt because the case was still being heard, they chatted about reservation life and the challenges Native Americans face.
Remember that woman who spit on Jiggs? About ten years later, Jiggs received a call from her, asking to meet for lunch in Port Angeles. As soon as he walked into the restaurant, the woman recognized Jiggs. She had always been very remorseful for her behavior the day she assaulted him and explained she got caught up in the heat of the moment. Jiggs says, “I thought that was pretty good,” that this woman apologized for her actions. Jiggs has an admirable quality of being able to forgive others.
Jiggs has fished all his life, been a member of the QNR fish committee, served in the Korean War and has been on Council. He was born on May 24, 1929, and is the father of three adult children, grandfather of ten, and the great grandfather of three. Some of his favorite moments include coaching youth in basketball and baseball. It was a rewarding experience for him, which he did for 25 years.
Jiggs fought hard for the fishing rights the tribes have today. And for the youth of today, he has this advice: “Once you start something, go ahead and do it. Do what you have to do…that includes going to school and getting an education.”