Trova Heffernan. Where the Salmon Run: The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank Jr. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012. ix + 322 pp. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-295-99178-8.
Reviewed by Steven M. Fountain (Washington State University--Vancouver)
Published on H-Environment (January, 2013)
Commissioned by David T. Benac
More Messages from Frank's Landing
Where the Salmon Run is an admiring portrait of one of the most important actors in recent environmental and Native American history. Ostensibly a biography of Billy Frank Jr., it is actually the story of an entire family, with special attention to the continuity between Willie Frank and his son, Billy Jr. The younger Frank rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s as a central figure in a protest movement that came to be known as the fish-ins. Trova Heffernan demonstrates that by the time the national media began to give attention to the conflict over Native American fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest, the fight had been underway for decades. Disputes between Puget Sound Indians and the Washington Department of Fish and Game had led to repeated arrests and confiscation of gear. By the mid-1960s, reports of harassment and even exchanges of gunshots had become commonplace. Billy Frank Jr. was the most prominent of many Indians in those decades who repeatedly asserted their treaty rights to fish "at all usual and accustomed grounds."
Perhaps the iconic (and ironic) public image of the fish-ins is of a smiling Marlon Brando hefting a Chinook salmon in each hand. Brando visited Frank's Landing in 1964 and his arrest for illegal fishing drew national attention to a little-known conflict, but this came in the midst of a lengthy campaign. A year and a half later, the first "Battle of Frank's Landing" left men, women, and children battered and bleeding from a clash involving clubs and hurled rocks, and resulted in conflicting stories from Indians and state game agents. Confiscations, arrests, and occasional violence continued, competing for attention with film footage from the civil rights movement in the American South. Members of other tribes attended fish-ins throughout the 1960s, and the appearance of other celebrities, such as Dick Gregory and Buffy St. Marie, intermittently sparked greater media attention.
Watershed legal events, including a trio of court decisions involving the Puyallup Tribe, make their due appearance here. By the late 1960s, the comparatively small campaign had overlapped with a broader civil rights movement. The turning point in Frank's story and in the assertion of Native American treaty rights came with the Boldt decision (U.S. v. Washington) issued in 1974 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. A critical point of the far-reaching decision established a fifty-fifty division of the salmon fishery between tribes and non-natives. Frank's supporters gained the upper hand in tribal politics following another court decision, Frank v. Morton (1977). That case opened up enrollment in the Nisqually Tribe and new members tilted the balance toward Frank's assertion of rights under the still-disputed Boldt decision.
This much of the story is well known to many historians of Native American and environmental issues. How Frank and a cadre of his associates were able to effect such a significant change in policy is a story that stands alongside other crowning achievements of the civil rights era. Yet some Native Americans objected to Frank's "illegal" fishing practices and the inclusion of outsider celebrities in Nisqually fishing. Heffernan touches on these complications in her well-researched book, but the emphasis is on Frank's achievements and obstacles that he overcame. Allusions to the on-and-off difficulties between Frank and the Nisqually Tribe remain undeveloped. For example, an explicit mention of a 1985 "falling out" that resulted in the Nisqually Tribe cutting Frank's funding remains unexplained, except for a brief quote from Frank himself to the effect that he had moved on (p. 204). One chapter addresses a 2007 federal raid of the Frank family's smoke shop adjacent to Interstate 5, highlighting the complicated relationship between Frank's Landing as a "self-governing Indian community" and the nearby Nisqually Reservation. The history of this complicated arrangement and how it shaped much of the Frank family's story is clear, but the 2010 resolution of the tobacco sales case (Nisqually v. Gregoire) in favor of the Frank's Landing community is absent. Indeed, throughout Where the Salmon Run several equally complex and intertwined issues appear, suggesting many more stories to be told.
Offered in a library binding format usually reserved for reference books, the intent for this book to be adopted for school libraries seems clear. However, the quote-heavy nature of the book sometimes makes for an uneven reading experience. The preface candidly states that the story "is largely told from the perspective of Billy Frank, Jr. and other tribal leaders. It is in no way a comprehensive history of the fish wars or the co-management of natural resources that followed" (p. ix). Thus, Heffernan lets others tell much of the story, whether through personal testimony, newspaper accounts, or subsequent reports. The result is an overlapping of chronologies that could be confusing for readers unfamiliar with the course of events. Charles Wilkinson's Messages from Frank's Landing: A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way (2000) covers much of the same ground regarding the Puget Sound fish-ins and remains the definitive account of Frank's involvement and the environmental issues emanating from comanagement of resources.
The primary contribution of Heffernan's book is to make explicit connections to the larger American Indian rights movement and to update Frank's life after the spotlight moved away from the Pacific Northwest salmon wars. His involvement in resource politics has ranged from international agreements leading to the formation of the Pacific Salmon Commission to working with private landowners to enhance riparian habitat along his beloved Nisqually River. The photographs and personal stories alone make it worth an interested reader's time. Arriving as it does on the twentieth anniversary of Frank's receipt of the Albert Schweitzer Award for Humanitarianism, it is appropriate that the book fetes Frank and recalls his achievements for another generation of students.
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Steven M. Fountain. Review of Heffernan, Trova, Where the Salmon Run: The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank Jr..
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