Hank Adams: 2006 American Indian visionary


The late Vine Deloria Jr. was as generous as he was modest. When Deloria
received this newspaper's American Indian Visionary Award in 2005, he
accepted it humbly, but forcefully stipulated that there were many other
individuals who had greatly contributed to the cause of Indian tribal
rights, "all of whom are more deserving than I am." On the night of the
award ceremony at the National Press Club, Deloria enunciated a list of
several prospective nominees and, after a pleasant dinner, for his parting
words he chose to say this: "Friends, now promise me, for next year, don't
forget Hank Adams."

The motion from the esteemed and appreciated Deloria to a core group among
nominators to Indian Country Today's American Indian Visionary Award was
logged for the importance of its source, though not immediately adopted. A
nomination process sustained. Others were considered. The question kept
circling back to Adams. As Deloria himself wrote more than 30 years ago,
the media tends to create "instant personalities," but there are also the
"most important persons," the ones, "virtually anonymous," who influence
"events far in excess of what one would expect."

Such a man, wrote Deloria in the early winter 1975 edition of the Indian
movement publication Akwesasne Notes, is "a slight, shy, and somewhat
mysterious Assiniboine-Sioux from Fort Peck, Mont.," named Hank Adams. The
article is vintage Deloria early in his career, as always wonderfully
mature and clear-headed. It is republished in this issue as a historical
teaching, for professor Deloria used the example of Adams not only to
discuss the visionary qualities of the man, but also universally to discern
a core characteristic of Indian leadership.

Deloria's recommendation was not only forceful and heartfelt. As we can see
from the range of testimonies in this week's edition, it was also
characteristically on the mark. After weeks of careful discussion and
consideration, we are very pleased to announce that Henry (Hank) Adams has
been selected as the recipient of the 2006 American Indian Visionary Award.
The award is given in recognition of his qualities of vision, courage,
commitment and discipline -- but it was Adams' quiet modesty or natural
humility that was found most admirable.

In important ways, Adams represents -- beyond himself -- the existence and
presence of that whole range of wonderful people who quietly sacrificed for
American Indian causes and whose names are hardly known: not the ones "out
front" before cameras and pictures, but leaders substantial and crucial who
toiled and endured quietly for the good of the people. We offer the hope
that all of the "unknown" leaders, all the important ones who provided
direction while disregarding, even shunning, offers of personal glory, feel
equally represented.

While many well-informed Indian people may never have heard of Adams, the
experienced, deeply involved Indian advocates formed at the turn of the
termination era (1960s) all have. In those circles, the whispering
recognition of this dedicated man of vision has sustained quietly for more
than 30 years.

Adams is an activist's activist who engaged the intellectual and practical
efforts required to achieve a recognition of Indian rights, starting in the
early 1960s and sustaining to the present. Readers will find in this issue
several articles about the life and times of Adams, penned by a
distinguished group that has known the range and nature of Adams'
dedication to American Indian peoples and were, in fact, witnesses and
participants to his work. All can attest to Adams' early role as a crucial
and central interpretive voice in highly charged political issues.

Often jailed and once shot through the body while netting in protest of
anti-treaty prohibitions, Adams is universally credited by those in the
know -- among those who were there -- with finding peaceful solutions that
saved lives in dangerous confrontations, with rescuing important historical
and legal documents under great stress, and with becoming perhaps the most
trusted Indian activist-intellectual formulating strategies and policy
during the formative and often dangerous period of the American Indian
movement for rights and resources.

John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund,
points out Adams' early leadership in the fishing rights struggles of the
Northwest Coast tribes. "Hank knew well that Indian rights were grounded in
centuries of history, law and policy that validated modern-day Indian
claims," states Echohawk. Adams' early research and political work to
establish the validity of Indian treaties dating back to the mid-1800s gave
fruit in the Boldt decision on Indian fishing rights, which Echohawk calls
"a watershed event." Ramona Bennett, trailblazing Puyallup leader,
presently executive director of Rainbow Youth and Family Services, calls
Adams "our choreographer, he knows were the next step should be."

"Hank Adams is one of the bravest and finest men I have ever known," writes
author Les Whitten. Whitten, then close associate of legendary columnist
Jack Anderson, was involved in an important incident from the time of the
Indian takeover of the BIA in 1972. During the occupation of the bureau,
many documents were taken by individuals and groups. The documents, in part
used to detail government malfeasance by the Anderson column, also were too
important to lose. Adams got the job of getting them back. Writes Whitten:
"His bravery is not foolhardy or mad, but that of one who totally
recognizes the dangers he faces and goes ahead anyway, not once but year
after year." Whitten credits Adams with the "ability to ... accomplish
benefits not just for himself but for all of us."

Deloria points out that during the 1972 takeover, Adams was chosen to
negotiate a peaceful resolution. And, during the Wounded Knee occupation in
1973, writes Deloria, "without his constant and quiet work behind the
scenes, Wounded Knee might well have been a repeat of the earlier

ICT Columnist Suzan Harjo, elder Billy Frank Jr., former Assistant
Secretary of the BIA Kevin Gover and others provide compelling historical
testimony that clearly Adams is worthy of honoring as a visionary who gave
his all at crucial moments for American Indian peoples.

Deloria provides a central assessment: "Adams has been the key man behind
the scenes, the crucial individual who held the line through knowledge,
perseverance, and hard work during those times when others shirked the
dirty work or failed to see in the turn of events the crucial nature of the

Give Ramona Bennett the final word: "Somewhere in Olympia, Wash., there is
a thin, aging Assiniboine-Sioux man leaning over a computer. He is making
sure we have a tomorrow."

Thank you, Hank Adams, for exemplifying the characteristics of humility and
capacity; for sharing your vision and leading the way.