Review: Messages from Frank's Landing; A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way

By Gable, Cate | Electronic Green Journal, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Review: Messages from Frank's Landing; A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way


Gable, Cate, Electronic Green Journal


Review: Messages from Frank's Landing; A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way By Charles Wilkinson Messages from Frank's Landing; A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way. Charles Wilkinson. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000, hardback, 118 pages. 0-295-98011-7 US$22.50 cloth

Charles Wilkinson and the University of Washington Press have produced an elegant little book that packs a punch. Messages from Frank's Landin; A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way captures, through the eyes of Nisqually tribal leader and activist Billy Frank Jr., the history of the tribe's efforts to save their culture, their river, and Pacific Northwest salmon runs. The tale is complex, as any environmental story is, but this one is made even more layered by the clash of cultures and the inevitable web of government policy makers stretching over many decades and regimes.

The white man's version of this story starts in the Pacific Northwest in the 1800s; the 1818 Treaty between England and the United States acknowledged a joint tenancy but allowed Americans territory primarily below the Columbia River. In 1846, Washington and Oregon were ceded to the United States, and the Donation Land Act of 1850, a precursor of the Homestead Act, ensured that a steady stream of settlers began entering the southern Puget Sound area.

I say "the white man's story. . ." because, of course, the Nisqually peoples had been living and thriving on and around the Nisqually River that threads it way south from the Puget Sound between Tacoma and Olympia in Washington State for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Then as Bill Frank's father Willie Frank, born in 1879, put it, "The white man came over the hill with a Bible in one hand and a bottle of liquor in the other."

President Pierce appointed Isaac Stevens as governor of the territories in 1853 to negotiate with tribes in the region, and the inevitable power struggle began. The Indian people spoke Salish and knew virtually no English, and, more importantly, they had never thought of land as a commodity to be owned or sold. "Fishing rights" did not exist as a concept. It will be no surprise to any reader that after the "negotiations," Stevens' treaty, confirmed by the Senate, allowed that most of the Puget Sound - 2.

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