Henry Lyle Adams
May 16, 1943
|Died||December 21, 2020 (aged 77)|
|Other names||Yellow Eagle|
|Alma mater||University of Washington|
|Occupation||Native American rights activist|
|Known for||tactician, strategist, and negotiator of several key events including the Boldt Decision|
|Movement||American Indian Movement|
|Awards||American Indian Visionary Award, 2006|
Jefferson Award for Public Service, 1981
Henry Lyle Adams (May 16, 1943 – December 21, 2020) was an American Native rights activist known as a successful strategist, tactician, and negotiator that worked to resolve several key conflicts between Native Americans and state and federal government officials after 1960. Born Assiniboine-Sioux in Montana and based in Washington state for much of his life, his activities took him to Washington, DC and Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
Adams was instrumental in working to assert and protect Native American fishing and hunting rights on traditional territories free of state restrictions. He fostered change through protests and court challenges. The ruling in United States v. Washington (1974), known as the Boldt Decision, upheld by the United States Supreme Court (1979) reaffirmed native treaty fishing rights, and effectively made tribes the co-managers of salmon and other fishing resources along with the state of Washington.
Adams participated in the American Indian Movement, including its occupation of the Department of Interior Building in Washington, DC in 1972 and in the Wounded Knee incident in 1973. In both cases Adams played important roles in negotiating peaceful resolutions of volatile situations. He continued his work to press for tribal sovereignty and to restore the role of elders in the tribes. In 2006 he was honored with the 'American Indian Visionary Award' by Indian Country Today.
Early life and education
Adams was born to an Assiniboine family on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana on May 16, 1943. His birthplace was Wolf Point, Montana also known as Poverty Flats. His father Louis, a bronc and bull rider, and his mother Jessie, a rodeo rider and horsewoman, divorced when he was young. The family name was changed while his grandfather, Two Hawk Boy, was sent away at age nine to Fort Peck Indian Boarding School, a residential school established to assimilate Native American children into white society in the United States, where he was renamed as John Adams. Hank Adams, also known as Yellow Eagle, had one sister, Lois.
His family moved to Washington State towards the end of World War II. They settled in Taholah, Washington part of the Quinault Indian Reservation on the Olympic Peninsula. While growing up, Adams regularly fished and worked as a fruit and vegetable picker on nearby farms, where he gained a strong work ethic. Adams was student-body president, editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, and played football and basketball at Moclips-Aloha High School in Moclips, Washington, graduating in 1961. He worked part of the time in a sawmill on the Quinault Reservation.
Adams attended the University of Washington for two years, from 1961 to 1963. While in school, he commuted to the Quinault Reservation to help combat a suicide epidemic. He left university in 1963 immediately after the assassination of President Kennedy and pursued full time work towards suicide prevention for Native American youth. That year also marked the start of his long partnership fighting for treaty rights with the Nisqually activist Billy Frank Jr.
Adams joined the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) in 1963. While he served the NIYC as Special Projects Director from 1963 to 1967, he first met Marlon Brando, an actor who later supported Native Americans at several protests. Adams organized a protest march for March 3, 1964 on Washington's capitol Olympia, to call attention to the state's attempt to limit Indian treaty fishing rights. Over 1,000 Native Americans and supporters attended the event. He invited Brando to the event, whose visit garnered national media attention. In 1964, a "fish-in" protest in Washington state had been organized at Franks Landing, the first of a series of civil disobedience actions Native Americans modeled on the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. The preceding day, March 2, 1964, Brando had been arrested at a "fish-in" and was swiftly released.
In 1964 and 1965, Adams was active as the research secretary for the National Congress of American Indians. In April 1964, he refused to be inducted into the military unless traditional Indian treaty rights were honored by the federal government. Although his rebellion attracted media attention, he later served a two year term in the Army from 1965 to 1967.
In 1968 Adams became the leader of the Survival of American Indians Association (SAIA). This collection of 200 members was concerned with protecting traditional Indian fishing rights, which were under pressure from sports fishermen and local governments. Native Americans asserted that their rights to fish superseded state regulations. Near the end of 1968, Adams became directly involved in the struggle and fought against state fishing regulations of Native Americans on the Nisqually River in Washington. He was arrested several times for protest actions between 1968 and 1971. In 1971, he was shot in the stomach at point-blank range by a gunman during the Northwest Fish Wars.
In 1968, Adams served on the national steering committee of the Poor People's Campaign, organized by Martin Luther King. He was among the Native American representatives in April 1968 who occupied the National Mall in Washington D.C. and "reached out across the racial divide in common cause with other poor people". Adams led a group of over 100 residents of Resurrection City, including Native Americans in tribal regalia, to the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC on May 29, 1968. While his efforts resulted in 25 tribal leaders gaining entrance to the building where they chanted and drummed during hours of waiting with the goal to directly hand over their complaint, the justices declined to come into the outer chamber to meet them.
Adams sought the Republican nomination as candidate for the House of Representatives from Washington's Third Congressional District in 1968 and 1972. He was unsuccessful but supported the Republican candidates.
In 1971, Adams authored a 15-point national program with the goal of establishing a "system of bilateral relationships between Indian tribes and the federal government" that became the basis of the Twenty Point Proposal submitted to federal officials in 1972 during the Trail of Broken Treaties.
Adams continued to work on the fishing rights issue, also lobbying representatives in Washington. He compiled and presented information critical to making the case for Native American fishing rights in the legal challenge United States v. Washington, settled in 1974, widely known as the Boldt Decision. At the trial itself, Adams served in the unprecedented role of lay-lawyer, directly representing tribal fishing people in front of Judge Boldt at the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.
The United States Supreme Court affirmed that Native Americans in the Northwest had the right to continue to fish in traditional territories and in traditional ways exempt from state restrictions. This included fishing at traditional grounds off the reservation. Adams was active on the issue as a strategist and worked in concert with Billy Frank Jr.
The courts acted to uphold the treaty-protected fishing rights and empowered tribes to partner with the state of Washington to co-manage the salmon and other fishing resources.
Adams continued to work with issues surrounding the Boldt Decision throughout his lifetime.
Trail of Broken Treaties
Adams was active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and accompanied members of AIM on their 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties protest march across the country. The protesters called for more sovereignty for indigenous Americans. The march culminated in an unplanned occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices at the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C.. The Trail of Broken Treaties caravan stopped in Minneapolis, Minnesota where Adams drafted a proposal of Twenty Points listing a series of demands.
The group asked for the tribes to be given treaty-making authority, for the federal judiciary to accept the Native American right to interpret treaties, and for abolition of laws that threatened Indian sovereignty and life. Although the list was not accepted, it established a record of goals for Native American sovereignty and self-determination. Adams' leadership and commitment to clarifying the key issues helped to change government policy, allowing federally recognized tribes to make gains in autonomy and self-governance.
BIA building takeover
Adams was instrumental in saving Indian lives in two of the major Red Power movements of the early 1970s. During the Bureau of Indian Affairs building takeover in 1972, Adams was the main negotiator on behalf of the Indians who occupied the Department of Interior headquarters. He was vital in gaining amnesty for protesters during negotiations with the White House for the events that occurred during the takeover. One year later Adams participated in the occupation of Wounded Knee.
Red Power as a form of activism was not something that the National Indian Youth Council originated in the 1960s. Every generation of Indian people has fought valiantly against what has been happening to them.— Hank Adams, Indian Self Rule (1986), Chapter 4: Activism and Red Power
Wounded Knee incident
At the 1973 Wounded Knee incident, a 71-day occupation protest led by AIM, Adams helped to end the occupation in a peaceful manner. He was the intermediary between Frank Fools Crow, the head of the Lakota Occupation, and representatives of President Richard Nixon's White House. Leonard Garment, the lead White House aide in both of the BIA building takeover and the Wounded Knee incident said: "Hank Adams' role in the peaceful resolution of some very difficult problems is still vividly clear in my mind.". Adams worked mainly behind the scenes on both of these issues. Adams said of his work: "Some of the things you prevent from happening are as important as many of the things you are able concretely to achieve."
In order to heighten awareness of the treaty disputes in the Pacific Northwest over fishing, Adams produced As Long as the Rivers Run, a documentary film. Filmed between 1968 and 1970, As Long as the Rivers Run documented the struggles between Native Americans and government officials during the Fish Wars, a series of actions where Indigenous Americans sought justice to uphold their fishing rights. Adams dedicated this film to his sister-in-law, Valerie Bridges, who died in a drowning incident while demonstrating for fishing rights in the Northwest.
|on YouTube Originally released 1971, digitally re-mastered by Salmon Defense, run time 1:00:05|
The film was shown in 1972 to occupiers of the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C.. Adams reflected that since the film showed violence against Native American women during protests, it may have contributed to the occupiers trashing the Interior building.
Adams was considered by many in the Indian community as one of the most influential people in the movement. Leonard Garment, the lead White House aide in resolving both the BIA occupation and Wounded Knee incident, said of Adams: "Hank Adams' role in the peaceful resolution of some very difficult problems is still vividly clear in my mind." 
- The American Institute for Public Service honored Adams in 1981 with a Jefferson Award for Public Service.
- Adams was the recipient of an Abraham Lincoln Award from the National Education Association in 1971 for "courageous actions in support of equal opportunity" and for his "tireless activism".
- In 2006 he was honored with the American Indian Visionary Award by Indian Country Today, the third person to receive the award.
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A skilled strategist and tactician, Adams effectively combined . . .
- Carson, Rob (February 15, 2014). "Boldt decision has rippling effects 40 years later" (PDF). The News Tribune. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
Hank Adams, who had served as the tribes’ unofficial tactician and political organizer . . .
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