Hank Adams

“In my mind, histories written a generation from now will say that he was the only significant figure to emerge in the post-war period of Indian history.”

- Vine Deloria Jr.

hank adams

Cited as essential in resolving the 71-day siege at Wounded Knee in 1973, Adams presents a letter from the White House to Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow. Hank Adams collection

Top left: Hank Adams alongside his father, Louis, “the best Indian bronc and bull rider out of Montana.” Hank Adams collection

Top right: “I’ve never hid the fact that my central interest, apart from securing general and specific Indian objectives, had been oriented toward helping achieve a peaceful settlement.” Barry Staver, The Denver Post

Bottom left: Adams devoted his life to treaty fishing rights after befriending the family of the late Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually Indian and global activist. Adams remembers the brutal scuffles on the riverbank at Frank’s Landing with Billy’s older sister, Maiselle Bridges. Laura Mott

Bottom right: Surrounded by Mel Thom and Reies Lopez Tijerina, civil rights leaders, Hank Adams marches in the nation’s capitol during the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). He sat on the national steering committee of the PPC and held the hand of its chairman, Martin Luther King Jr., as they sang “We Shall Overcome.” Seventy-two hours later King was assassinated. Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico

Who is he?

Called “the most important Indian,” Hank Adams orchestrated fish-ins that brought Marlon Brando to the Washington State Capitol; wrote the famous 20 Points proposal during the Trail of Broken Treaties; negotiated an end to the Indian occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington D.C., and represented the White House during the siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. For his tireless activism, Adams received the Abraham Lincoln Award, the Jefferson Award and the American Indian Visionary Award.

Henry Lyle Adams is a Montana native who moved to Taholah, on the Washington coast, after his parents divorced. In high school he was student body president, an honor student and a standout athlete. The Assiniboine-Sioux spent only two years at the University of Washington, yet later used his encyclopedic knowledge of Indian law to serve as lay counsel to the tribes.

A behind-the-scenes strategist for treaty fishing rights, Adams used media and celebrity to sway public opinion. In 1971, vigilantes on the Puyallup River shot the activist in the stomach. “I can’t identify him. But hell, I’ve seen him before—in a thousand taverns, in a thousand churches, on a thousand juries,” Adams said. Tribal activism culminated in a landmark court ruling for the tribes in 1974.