When Hank Adams first came to Frank's Landing in winter 1964 to support the
treaty fishermen who were publicly branded as "renegades," we were
But after a newsman asked our most prominent leader whether "Indians
believe they have a right to destroy the last fish" and she answered, "Yes!
We were here first!" -- the fishermen's confidence shifted immediately
He had interjected to declare: "No one has that right. The first right is
with the salmon resource. The issue is not 'the last fish,' but the state's
allowing non-Indians to catch 13 million salmon last year while throwing
Indians into jail for catching any -- and prohibiting some treaty tribes
from harvesting any salmon or steelhead at all."
Al Bridges and I quickly asked Hank if he would be our spokesman. He
agreed, but told us, "You can be the best spokesmen yourselves."
Adams initially came here as a National Indian Youth Council organizer. He
asked for our participation in a NIYC campaign of national awareness on
Indian issues, saying they wanted to focus in an area where Indians were
already actively committed to the fight for treaty rights.
The plan was for actor Marlon Brando to fish with us at the landing and
then hold a mass Indian assembly at the state capitol. Brando's fishing
shifted instead to the Puyallup and Quillayute rivers. The Olympia protest
did draw nearly 2,000 people, predominantly Indians from throughout
Hank had already lobbied wire service reporters to abandon such stock
phrases as "unregulated," "free from any conservation rules" and "ancient
treaties" in their frequent articles on Indian fishing.
That wording mirrored state complaints for civil injunctions dating from
1962 which had made our every act of fishing subject to criminal contempt
citation. Following Brando's departure, six of us "renegades" were thrown
into Tacoma's Pierce County jail for 30 days.
Trials on injunction merits would come later. Hank and Brando enlisted
added legal assistance for briefing our appeal to the state and U.S.
The high court ruled on the Nisqually and Puyallup appeals in May 1968,
during our participation in the Poor People's Campaign. Immediately we
marched against the Supreme Court to protest deficiencies in its Puyallup
Days later, Adams asked Richard and David Sohappy to stay in jail while the
PPC presented their arrests issues to the U.S. Justice Department. Richard
was a Yakama soldier home on convalescent leave for his third series of
combat wounds in Vietnam.
Top Justice officials pledged that the United States would file suit. In
New York, Hank secured commitments from the National Office for Rights of
the Indigent to fund a Sohappy lawsuit. Joined with the federal case
against Oregon, the result was the Belloni decision (United States v.
Oregon) of March 1969.
For 1968 fall and winter seasons, we resumed fishing the Nisqually with
support of a multi-racial onsite encampment. State arrests followed. We had
ceased open fishing after the February 1966 arrests of Lillian and Dick
Gregory. Lillian spent 12 days in jail. Dick waited until 1968 to serve his
Hank's 1968 Capitol Lake arrests brought a year jail term. Cosmetic changes
in state regulations for 1969 took us back on the Nisqually to challenge
them. Six of the truest champions in the long treaty rights battle
submitted to arrest.
My sister, Maiselle Bridges, and my wife, Norma, were dragged up a
riverbank over hard craggy rocks. Al Bridges and Sid Mills were taken from
a logjam at the landing. My nieces, Alison and Valerie Bridges, were
arrested just outside the boundary marking the first modern Indian fishery
authorized by the state.
One objective outlined by Hank was to challenge the state's claimed
authority on the landing. Charges against Al Bridges were dismissed for
lack of jurisdiction -- based on Hank's evidentiary briefs and testimony
from my dad, Bill Frank Sr.
Similar objectives underlay Maiselle's setting up a fishing camp on Indian
lands within the original reservation boundaries of the Puyallup Tribe the
following summer. The state and the BIA were then recognizing only the
small tribal cemetery tract as the Puyallup's remaining reservation.
The Sept. 11, 1970 assault by more than 300 state police agents to make 62
arrests at the camp gave impetus to that month's filing of the historic
United States v. Washington case that later produced the famed Boldt
decision in early 1974.
When felony charges proceeded against Maiselle and her daughter (my niece)
Suzette in February 1971, Adams carried a documentary packet to the BIA
Central Office in Washington, D.C. Resulting Interior solicitor opinions
concluded that the Puyallup reservation extended to its original 1857 and
1873 boundaries. A separate United States v. Washington lawsuit affirmed
that conclusion. Maiselle and Suzette were acquitted in absentia and no
additional Indians from the 62 could be taken to trial.
Before Boldt, Hank had secured the first restraining orders against the
state since my dad had won a federal injunction in 1937 on the Nisqually.
The cases were in my name on Nisqually and in Suzette's on the Puyallup. As
a Puyallup member, Suzette had also sued the BIA successfully to halt their
recognition of a second (recalled) tribal council.
In federal district courts in Oregon and Washington, D.C., Hank's lawsuits
in my name were successful against Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B.
Morton and the State of Washington's revenue director. One secured a
10-year protective tax immunity order for the landing and the other
required correction of tribal membership rolls for Nisqually Indians and
restoration of our 1946 Indian Reorganization Act constitution.
In 1974, Hank was admitted as lay counsel to represent Nisqually fishermen
in United States v. Washington proceedings.
Significantly, Hank had worked since 1962 with federal biologist Jim
Heckman and others to develop the biologist corps and management structures
that could redeem our treaties in court and then serve ongoing needs for
natural resources in each tribal nation.
Outside the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, my most valued
colleagues in aid of my own work over time have been Hank and lawyer Sue
Hvalsoe Komori -- Hank's one-time student.
At the May 1, 1974 convening of all the Boldt decision tribes to establish
the NIFC, Hank provided an example of the confidence and respect he has
earned among us all. He took down the plenary session worksheets posted on
a wall and said: "We have to start over. These diagrams wrongly continue to
treat Indian fishermen as a criminal class. Your magnificent victory in
court and your treaties do not allow that."
In that moment, the tribes regained something priceless and began moving
with the people -- our people -- on a new visionary path.
Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, recipient of the 2004 American Indian Visionary
Award, is the longtime chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries
Commission and a tireless leader in the struggle for Indian rights and