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Know the West

The power of vision and memory


Messages from Frank's Landing: A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way, by Charles Wilkinson. Illustrated with maps by Diane Sylvain and black-and-white photographs. University of Washington Press, 2000. Hardcover: $22.50. 128 pages.

The dust has long settled from the Northwest's fishing wars of the late 1960s and '70s - wars which set Indian fishers against commercial boats and state authorities. But the fire of the struggle still burns in 68-year old Nisqually activist Billy Frank, Jr., and it's his energy that drives Charles Wilkinson's Messages from Frank's Landing : A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way. Wilkinson takes us through a defiant period, when Frank and other Indians claimed a 19th century treaty gave them rights to salmon on Washington's Nisqually River. The group fished despite state authorities' best efforts to stop them, weathering arrests and tear gas. In the watershed era that followed, Frank convinced judges and federal regulators to protect much of the Nisqually and its bounty for tribal fisherman.

Wilkinson believes that Frank brought officials into the fold because he held strong images, passed on from his father Willie Frank, of the Nisqually watershed's vibrancy before dams and commercial fishing.

"As a lawyer, I once believed that law could change the world," writes Wilkinson, a law professor at the University of Colorado and a former litigator with the Native American Rights Fund. "I no longer think of it that way. The world changes only as new ethics, philosophies and world views change, evolve and mature. Then laws change to reflect the new ethics."

Writing Messages moved Wilkinson to a deep respect for the natural world and the Native American traditions that revere it. Whether you, as the reader, will be similarly moved by this rather short book is uncertain. But the voice of Billy Frank and the story of his achievements for the Nisqually - people and river - are worth discovering.