Before I met Hank Adams, I worked with the American Indian Women's Service
League in Seattle, developing plans for desperately needed new services for
Indians. I grew up in the care of my union activist white father and my
dark-skinned Puyallup mother.
My mom taught me the true history of violence and discrimination toward
Indians. She told me I could study savages by reading European history.
During World War II she talked about advanced Asian civilizations, even
when my classmates were making "slanty eyes" at her and calling her a
I always went with mom to the nearest "restroom" in the woods, when "no
dogs or Indians allowed" signs permitted dad to go in a store or restaurant
and kept mom out. I could have gone with dad because my skin and eyes are
light, but my attitude was Indian all the way.
One Saturday in 1969, I drove mom to a Puyallup Tribal meeting and was
elected to the council. I was chairman of Puyallup Tribe from 1971 through
When I came on council, our tribe had no services, no clear title to land,
no recognized rights, no funds and no reason to believe things would get
better. We didn't even have control of our own tribal enrollment.
The Presbyterians owned our only meeting house and Washington state
controlled our river. IHS ignored us and the BIA only came out to try to
ram the Court of Claims nickels and dimes down our throats.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens always remembered us
when they were submitting requests for new warfare equipment. They had jet
boats and armament to play violent versions of John Wayne theater on our
fishermen and women. They treated us like thieves when we exercised our
Our newly elected council included Maiselle Bridges from Frank's Landing --
center of the fishing rights struggle. She was the matriarchal "Ma Barker"
who pushed the action there and within the Puyallup Tribe.
Maiselle's little war party included Hank. He was the soft-spoken,
unassuming choreographer of the dance we did with Washington state. My mom
taught me our history and Hank showed us all the possibilities of our
It's a real gift to see what isn't there and then make it happen and make
it work. Hank strove for intergovernmental respect and cooperation. I
worked on establishing treaty-guaranteed services. We both had our work cut
out for us.
The BIA did not recognize our election. We decided to recognize ourselves
to govern, represent and serve our people.
The educational systems dealt with us in the past tense and governments
dealt with us as an unfortunate temporary problem. Hank has taken every
opportunity to secure and assure permanence for our Indian people and
recognition and respect of our continuing presence.
Our religion is that we are put here to protect our brothers and sisters,
the salmon. If we fail in that responsibility, we're done as Indians. The
fishing rights struggle was a fight for cultural and spiritual survival.
Hank came to Survival of American Indians Association just after its 1963
beginning. SAIA spearheaded the fight to bring the Puyallup Tribe up from
the ashes to the strong self-determined tribe we are today.
The Trail of Broken Treaties of 1972 and the "20 Points" paper for reform
formed in Hank's complex mental computer. SAIA organized the support system
for the caravan and the press coordination for a national forum. When law
enforcement personnel blockaded us in the BIA, Trail of Broken Treaties
objectives could have been lost if Hank hadn't keep sight of the goals.
When I was a kid, if something was impossible, the saying was: "That would
take an act of Congress." To Hank, that was a job description. When the BIA
or IHS omitted us in budgets, we got so many line item appropriations from
Congress that the congressmen knew us by name.
Having worked with Bernie Whitebear in the acquisition of Fort Lawton
lands, we sought funding for United Indians of All Tribes' plans and for
Women's Service League buildings and services in Seattle's downtown.
When I was looking at 35 years in prison for our 1970 Puyallup fishing camp
arrests, Hank secured an Interior solicitor's report that the tribe owned
the river and the campsite. Indeed, the state and local governments had no
authority or jurisdiction there. Tacoma Chief of Police Lyle Smith could
only say, "I always wondered why it was a different color on the map."
Hank has served on federal and tribal policy committees and been an advisor
for decision-makers for decades. He has received very little recognition
for his intellect, work, courage and humor.
The National Education Association recognized him with its Abraham Lincoln
award. Hank began his Detroit acceptance speech by saying: "Abraham Lincoln
should probably be my favorite president. He got white people to stop
killing Indians long enough to seriously engage them in the massive
slaughter of one another."
Hank has an eye and ear open at all times and is constantly thinking,
analyzing or writing. He is among our most intelligent Indians. He is a
gifted photographer and has a memory that is astounding.
Hank has been shot at, threatened and criticized for his good efforts on
After the occupation of the BIA building in 1972, he had news reporter Les
Whitten monitor the safe return of missing BIA records to assure that
returned documents were not destroyed by the government. Both were
arrested, along with Paiute leader Anita Collins.
He still believes in us.
Hank has a vision of Indian people living in harmony and justice on our own
"turtle continent." He strives for respect for us and a safe future for our
Sleep well tonight, Indian people.
Somewhere in Olympia, Wash., there is a thin, aging Assiniboine-Sioux man
leaning over a computer. He is making sure we have a tomorrow.
Ramona Bennett owns and directs Rainbow Youth and Family Services in
Tacoma, Wash., an 18-year-old state-licensed placement center for children
of all races. A former Puyallup tribal chairman and National Congress of
American Indians recording secretary, she was a leading force behind the
Indian Child Welfare Act.