A judicial robe worn by Judge George H. Boldt was recently donated to the Washington State Historical Society (WSHS) through the generosity of the Boldt family and the Swinomish Tribal Archives. The simplicity of the black mantle belies its sizeable legacy.
About 47 years ago, a landmark case with national ramifications was decided by Judge Boldt in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington (located in Tacoma). Known as the Boldt Decision (United States v. Washington), it was among the most significant decisions related to Native American rights during the 20th century. The controversial 1974 ruling was upheld in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco, CA) in 1975, and was further affirmed in the United States Supreme Court in 1979. It has empowered further legislation and legal decisions addressing the rights of Indigenous people nationwide and around the world.
“We were grateful to receive some of the family’s collection of Judge Boldt ephemera and two of his judicial garments,” Theresa Trebon, tribal archivist and records manager for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, said in a press release. “Our relationship with Judge Boldt’s daughter, Ginny (Virginia) Boldt Riedinger, began with his obituary. I had it on my desk for over a year to try and track down members of his family. I wanted to ascertain what their side of the story was, how that controversial decision affected them, and to hear reflections they might have of the Judge’s relationships with tribes after the decision. I wanted to flesh out this critical chapter.”
The Washington State Historical Society was deeply honored to receive Judge Boldt’s robe.
“I was so touched by Theresa’s call,” said Margaret Wetherbee, head of collections at WSHS, in a press release. “This is an emotionally powerful object, and Theresa and I shed tears together over the significance of this donation, both for our Native communities and for the historic record. Judge Boldt’s robe will be preserved and cared for with the utmost respect for generations to come.”
In 2024, the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma will feature an exhibition marking the 50-year anniversary of the Boldt Decision. In addition, the Washington State Legislature has allocated capital funds for the History Museum to update some of its exhibits, including those focused on the history of the Native people of this region.