Hank Adams Died at 77 – A Supporter of Treaty Rights and American Red Indian

Hank Adams, champion for American Red Indian
Hank Adams, champion for American Red Indian

Nationally renowned historian and tactician Hank Adams battled for American Indian rights in the Northwest and beyond.

Following many episodes of sickness, Adams passed away at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia on December 21, as confirmed by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. He was seventy-seven.

Because of his significant contributions to significant acts and movements for Indian sovereignty and civil rights starting in the 1960s, historian Vine Deloria dubbed Adams “the most influential Indian” in the United States.

Over the course of four decades, Adams was present at and had a significant influence on many of the major historical events in Indian Country, including the Fish Wars in the Pacific Northwest, despite his constant desire to avoid the limelight.

As Native Americans battled to fish off the reservation—a right guaranteed by their treaties with the United States government—on the Nisqually River in Thurston County and later on the Puyallup, they were arrested, fined, and physically assaulted by Washington state game wardens.

Judge George Boldt of the U.S. District Court upheld the tribes’ reserved rights to half of the catch in 1974 as a result of the fish-ins. The United States filed the lawsuit against the State of Washington because it was still denying the tribes their rights under the treaties.

Throughout the conflict, Adams served as a vital strategist and ally in the courts as well as on the riverbanks.

Along with mediating peaceful resolutions to some of the riskiest standoffs in contemporary Indian history, he also mediated talks with the Nixon White House to end tribal activists’ 1972 occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C., and a 1973 10-week siege of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

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Although deaths may have come from either occurrence, Adams was recognized for having played a crucial part in maintaining calm.

Willie Frank III, a member of the Nisqually tribe council, recalls hearing his father Billy Frank Jr. and Adams talk about the fish fights that were going on at Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River when he was growing up.

“Talking about my dad would be incomplete without discussing Hank, and conversing about Hank would be incomplete without discussing my dad,” declared Frank.

Frank stated of Adams, “They were quite close, he was my dad’s consultant on every significant choice.” Since the 1960s, he has served as the leader and organizer of every significant Native American movement. He was always the person in the background, never the one to take center stage.

Adams, a well-known historian and archivist, gathered a sizable collection of old photos and documents. Frank remarked, “There was a narrow route through; everything else was books and papers and boxes of paper.” But he might go straight to the paper if you tell him you want to see it.

With his grasp of history, I think he was the wisest guy in Indian Country.

Later in life, Adams had a large social media following of friends with whom he shared memories and images.

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Frank and others attributed the current status of Indian people in the Northwest and elsewhere to the efforts of civil and treaty rights fighters like Adams and his father.

Five-time Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro recalled Adams as a shrewd negotiator on both sides of the dispute.

“When no Indians were speaking out about anything, he became a nationally recognized advocate for Indians,” Munro recalled. “He was extremely intelligent… and you knew that what he said to you was accurate if he came to you. It is quite significant.

“He just understood how the system functions and that a majority is required to prevail. Furthermore, it didn’t matter to him who received credit.

Henry “Hank” Lyle Adams was born on May 16, 1943, at Wolf Point, Montana, and was a member of the Assiniboine-Sioux Tribe. Following World War II, he and his family relocated to Washington state, where he attended Moclips-Aloha High School close to the Quinault Indian Nation, according to editor Mark Trahant’s obituary for Adams in Indian Country Today.

When Adams joined the National Indian Youth Council in 1963, he started his long-term collaboration with Billy Frank in the battle for Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights.

G.I. James, a Lummi Nation elder, stated, “We have our warriors, the ones who are not only the one who cares, or who knows, but who believes, and Hank was one of those.” “To find someone prepared to dedicate their life to that ideology, dedicated to preserving and protecting our rights, is incredibly unusual these days.”

However, James stated that Adams’ goal was never to elevate one tribe above another. That wasn’t the main concern for either Hank or Billy (Frank). Their goal was to safeguard as much as possible for each and every person.

As Nancy Shippentower, a 67-year-old former Puyallup tribe council member, said, “The sacrifices made by Adams and others were borne by their families and children.” Nancy recalled how deeply she wept when she visited her own father in jail during the fish wars.

“I was raised in the fight for fishing rights. I remember not wanting to be Indian when I was younger. We didn’t have the money to buy me the foolish gowns and little shoes that I wanted to wear like a white girl,” Shippentower said. “Why? while our dads were being arrested by the state.

“There wouldn’t have been a Boldt decision if the fights along the riverbanks hadn’t happened. The bravery of these fighters—they were admirable individuals. The things they accomplished required a great deal of guts.

Longtime Jamestown S’Klallam tribal chairman W. Ron Allen stated that Adams was revered across Indian Country and was ahead of his time.

Allen stated, “He recognized the interdependence between treaty rights and sovereignty, and that one could not exist without the other.” “He always sent a clear, unambiguous, and consistent message about our identity as Indigenous people. In terms of advancing the Indigenous people’s special status, he moved ahead of the UN.

The fish commission stated in their release that there would be a memorial service later on but that no funeral services are scheduled at this time because to the epidemic.

On behalf of Adams’s family and friends, the panel declared, “Our sadness covers the horizon.” “At this time, while we grieve over our relative, the family asks for love and prayers.”


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