'Most Important Indian' Resolved Standoffs

Hank Adams often worked behind the scenes, or with Marlon Brando
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 24, 2020 5:20 PM CST
'Most Important Indian' Resolved Standoffs
Hank Adams, center, looks on as US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, left, greets Maiselle Bridges during the celebration of the renaming of Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia, Washington.   (Steve Bloom/The Olympian via AP)

Hank Adams, one of Indian Country's most prolific thinkers and strategists, has died. Adams, an Assiniboine-Sioux, died Monday at a hospital in Olympia, Washington, according to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. He was 77, the AP reports. Adams was called the "most important Indian" by influential Native American rights advocate and author Vine Deloria Jr., because he was involved with nearly every major event in American Indian history from the 1960s forward. He was perhaps best known for his work to secure treaty rights, particularly during the Northwest "fish wars" of the 1960s and '70s. "Hank's a genius. He knows things we don't know. He sees things we don't see," attorney Susan Hvalsoe Komori said when Adams was awarded the 2006 American Indian Visionary Award by Indian Country Today.

Adams was born in Wolf Point, Montana, and moved with his family to Washington state in the 1940s. In 1963, Adams joined the National Indian Youth Council, where he began to focus on treaty rights just as the "fish wars" were beginning and Northwest tribes were calling on the federal government to recognize their treaty-protected fishing rights. It was while Adams was working with the youth council that he met Marlon Brando, who would be prominent later in the Frank’s Landing protests over rights to fish for salmon. "That turned into a civil rights agenda," Adams later said. Both a public foil and a behind-the-scenes negotiator, Adams was instrumental in resolving the 1972 takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee. Using social media, Adams was meticulous in his documentation of family histories, often used to help people grieve over the loss of family, or to call out people who lied and claimed Indigenous ancestry.

(More obituary stories.)

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