Vocation / Education / Entertainment / Empowerment
"THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr."
Created by Billy Frank, Jr. and Michael Harris
Made Possible through the Support of Individuals and Institutions such as The Kathy & Steve Berman Environmental Law Clinic, The University of Washington School of Law, The University of Victoria School of Law, Trillium Corporation, Lenga Patagonia, The Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Baby Wild Films, Pacific Image Productions, The Tamaki Foundation, the Northwest Chapter of the National Association of Television Arts & Sciences, Snoqualmie Tribe, Mattson and Rodgers PLLC, Alaska Pacific University and The Institute for Village Resilience, and The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
This extraordinary project pulls together some of the region’s most accomplished educators, media professionals and legal advocates and historians to create a completely new paradigm of cultural and environmental advocacy, borne of the hopes and hardships of our First Nations. THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is a multi‐platform series of specials and short films, following Billy Frank Jr. as he travels to these spectacular and far‐flung locations, immersing himself in these cultures, witnessing stories and telling his own, and bringing to the non‐Native world a deeply honest and absolutely engaging experience with Indian Country. THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is direct action education – a living learning tool customized for each curriculum, design to be adaptable to all students young and old, and often delivered personally to classrooms and community centers by Billy, Michael and others involved in the project. The irrepressible message? Know your history, know your rights, find your voice, tell your own stories, make change... and here’s how to do it. To Billy, environmental justice is a human right. In his lifetime, it’s been worth risking his life and freedom. Because of the courage of people like him, the First Nations of the world now have within their grasp the power to protect their sacred places, stop the land grabs, fight the clearcuts, and literally turn back the tides of a warming Arctic. In our visits to these communities, THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY will take away images but leave much more – legal resources, critical global partnerships… and extremely cool television gear.
*See Billy Frank Jr. Scholarship / Julien Jacobs below.
Working with the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY will also be a vocational initiative, opening career opportunities for emerging indigenous photojournalists.* The project won’t just parachute into a location like many TV crews do, shooting for a few days and then never returning. The project will build lifelong relationships in the communities it serves. THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY will equip and mentor young villagers to the craft and disciplines of newsgathering, and of modern digital storytelling. With the help of veteran broadcast professionals, Native Alaskan youth living in Arctic villages now slipping into the sea will soon document the dramatic impacts of climate change with new, state‐of‐the‐art, high‐definition video cameras, providing powerful images and first‐hand accounts of the crisis to the rest of the world. Pacific Islanders will chronicle first‐hand the rising sea levels that threaten their homelands. And young filmmakers on reservations throughout North America will gather intimate accounts of how tribes and bands are drawing on the legal remedies now available to them to protect and restore their natural heritage – largely because of people like Billy Frank Jr. They now have a place at the table. But as Billy says, “We still need to pound our fist on it from time to time.”
Billy Frank Jr. and Michael Harris, at Billy’s 80th Birthday Party, attended by over "800 of his closest friends," including Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.
Hosted and narrated by Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, winner of the Northwest Regional Emmy Award for “Outstanding On-Air Host or Moderator.” Produced, directed and edited by 11‐time Emmy Award‐winning filmmaker and digital journalist Michael Harris (ABC News Good Morning America; ONE WORLD With Olivia Newton John: THE GALAPAGOS; Discovery’s Popular Science With Dean Stockwell; THE INLAND SEA With Jean-Michel Cousteau), with an original score and music by seven‐time ASCAP Award-winning composer Tim Truman (MGM’s Jeremiah, Aaron Spelling’s Melrose Place and Charmed). Director of Photography is Kevin Ely (MTV; VH1; ABC News; NBC News; CBS’s 48 Hours and 60 Minutes). Co‐written by Billy Frank, Jr. and Michael Harris. Series Consultants are University of Washington Professor Robert Anderson, Director of the Native American Law Center and Enrolled Member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe; and William H. Rodgers, Jr., Stimson Bullitt Professor of Law at the University of Washington, author of "Environmental Law in Indian Country" and "The Si’lailo Way: Indians, Salmon & Law on the Columbia River."
Nine Hour‐Long Specials, in Progressive High‐Definition Television (HDTV).
THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is a Washington State 501(c)(3) non‐profit organization. Board of Directors are Michael Harris, Contributing Producer, ABC News and others; Owner/Principal Creative for Baby Wild Films / Kevin Ely, Network Photojournalist, ABC News, CBS News and others; Owner, Pacific Image Productions / Vince Cooke, Environmental Consultant; Enrolled Member of The Makah Nation / Lois Allen, Executive Secretary, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; Enrolled Member, Colville Confederated Tribes / Victoria Hykes Steer, Attorney; Assistant Professor, Liberal Studies, Alaska Pacific University; Alaska Native Initiative; Institute for Village Resilience; Inupiaq, from Native Village of Unalakleet / Jaime Martin, Chief Administrative Services Officer, Snoqualmie Tribe; Enrolled Member, Snoqualmie Tribe (also Yakama and Duwamish) / Willie Frank III, Salmon Defense; Vice Chair, Nisqually Tribal Council; Enrolled Member, Nisqually Tribe.
Nine Hour-Long Specials:
The New Fish Wars – The Fight for Puget Sound
A highly publicized effort is now underway now to restore and protect Puget Sound, the Inland Sea of the State of Washington. An ambitious Action Plan has been crafted by a cross-section of environmental, industry and elected leaders to clean up the Sound, to make it healthy again for people and wildlife, including its endangered resident orcas and iconic salmon. But the success of this effort rests in how well this delicate coalition works together and builds a consensus – and perhaps the most critical partners at the table are the 20 treaty tribes of Washington, by law the co-managers of the fisheries here. The special looks back at the famous “Fish Wars” of the 1960s and ‘70s that got them there – the direct and uncompromising civil disobedience of Native people that ultimately led to the 1974 "Boldt Decision," upheld in U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. The episode frames the Fish War stories with two high-profile, Native-led reclamation efforts underway to bring the fish back to Puget Sound – the Nisqually Delta Restoration Project, and the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams on the Elwha River, home to what was once the largest salmon-producing river system in the U.S. Billy also visits his Native Canadian cousins, witnessing their ongoing battle against runaway fish farms in their ancestral waters.
THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr. will have the honor of participating in an extraordinary, historic event – the reuniting of the veterans of The Fish Wars. In an extraordinary campfire gathering at the site of the famous Puyallup River Encampment of 1970, Billy will lead a remarkable remembrance that will no doubt be dynamic and revealing, both reverent and irreverent, sometimes hilarious, other times heart-wrenching. And those attending and sharing stories will be surpisingly diverse, from the warriors themselves who often risked their lives (and some gave theirs) to continue their traditional way of living… to the brilliant activist leaders like Hank Adams of the Survival of the American Indians Association, the rag-tag, indefatigable rally point for the Fish-Ins… to the volunteer litigators who had the audacity to advocate for their Indian neighbors, and then make it a winning case in the nation's highest courts… perhaps even some of the celebrities who lent their fame to the fight, like Dick Gregory, the comedian who was deadly serious about Indian fishing rights, who together with his wife demanded to be put into prison and serve time for his Fish-In support. And of course, since this is a gathering of fishermen on the banks of a river and the Chinook are starting to run, there could be a few nets tossed in the water, as well.
The Iñupiat, Hanging On at the Top of The World
Climate change is probably the biggest crisis the world faces today – and this is the front line. With every wave that comes in from the Arctic Sea up here, a piece of Native Alaska goes with it. In this urgent special, Billy Frank travels to the northernmost point in North America to visit his Iñupiat brothers and a whaling culture thousands of years old literally melting away into the sea. Billy presents an intimate portrait of resilience and determination. Defying life-threatening conditions – made even more dangerous by thinning ice – the village crews land their whales, with the muktuk divided among the entire community. Everyone will have a freezer full of whale meat. Life goes on in Iñupiat Country. The special also explores new solutions being offered to reduce the often-prohibitive costs of relocating Iñupiat villages. The special also visits another Native Alaskan who's village is slowly disappearing because of climate change – 16-year-old Nelson Kanuk from Kipnuk. His powerful piece is presented as part of THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY's partnership with iMatter and TRUST FILMS, a series of 10 short films to document the stories of U.S. youth standing up in court to compel action on climate change.
Native Alaska & the Big Spill
Billy Frank travels to Native Alaskan villages still reeling from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, visiting subsistence hunting grounds and sacred sites still stuck in the muck of persistent and toxic oil. From Cordova and the Native Village of Eyak, to the Native Villages of Chenega and Tatitlek, all the way to the Native communities on Kodiak Island, some 250 miles from where the Exxon Valdez ran aground, the film culls the voices of tribal members, providing powerful testimony to the economic and psychological impacts the spill has had on a culture thousands of years old. But this isn’t about misery; it’s about resilience, determination, hope. The special also travels to the southern reaches of Prince William Sound and the majestic Copper River Delta, the largest undeveloped system of its kind in North America – home, some would argue, to the best salmon on Earth. Billy hears how protecting this extraordinary ecosystem, which was miraculously spared from the spill, may actually be the key to saving it all.
The Nation of Hawaii – 3,000 Miles From America
Countless programs have traveled to Hawai’i; this may be the first to actually visit The Nation of Hawai’i. It’s an extraordinary journey to Paradise, a look at how that Paradise was lost… and how people like Bumpy Kanahele and Emmett Aluli are fighting to find it again. Today, the Nation of Hawai’i Movement may have found its foothold – the Island of Kaho’olawe. At some 44 square miles the smallest of Hawai’i’s eight main volcanic islands, Kaho’olawe was once known as “Target Island,” training ground during WWII and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. In 1976, Members of Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) began a series of occupations of the Island and filed suit in Federal District Court in an effort to halt the bombing. A series of court victories and shrewd negotiations followed over the next decade, ultimately resulting in Kaho‘olawe being listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated the Kaho‘olawe Archaeological District. In 1993, Sen. Daniel Inouye sponsored Title X of the 1994 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which authorized conveyance of Kaho’olawe and its surrounding waters back to the State of Hawai‘i. Congress also voted to end military use of Kaho‘olawe and authorized $400 million for ordnance removal. The Island was at last returned to the Hawai’ian people by formal agreement. The Legislature established the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve and the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission to manage it, directing that the island and its surrounding waters can be used only for Native Hawai’ian cultural, spiritual and subsistence purposes and prohibiting commercial uses. "The Nation of Hawai'i" also includes a rare trip to The Forbidden Island of Ni'ihau, privately owned since 1864 and off-limits to everyone except the 130 Ni'ihauans who live there, speaking only a unique dialect of the Native Hawai'ian language.
The Miccosukee & The Pay-Hay-OKee (Everglades)
The Miccosukee number only about 550 members, but their influence resounds throughout the region. And much of that has to do with Chief Buffalo Tiger. Born in a small village in the Everglades in 1920, he grew up immersed in the traditional customs and language of the Miccosukee. Making their home for generations in the remote reaches of the Grassy Water, the Miccosukee have been able to retain much of their older way of life well into the twentieth century. As the modern world encroached on the Miccosukee and the Everglades shrank around them, Chief Tiger became an energetic and outspoken leader of the community. He and other Miccosukee fought for years to escape the shadow of the larger, better known and more politically powerful Seminoles. Today, they are leaders in protecting the water quality of the Everglades. Host Billy Frank Jr. takes viewers on an intimate tour of Miccosukee Country with Buffalo Tiger, now retired from tribal politics but at 86 as energetic and determined as he ever was. He runs an Everglades airboat tour company now, and no one knows the Pay-Hay-Okee like Buffalo. This special is an extraordinary meeting of two elders who understand as well as anybody that when it comes to Native sovereignty, “you gotta pound on the table once in a while” in order to get a place at it.
The Makah & The Whales
This episode traces the trials and tribulations of a remote Indian tribe determined to save its culture. The Makah Nation is the only whaling people in the Lower 48, a treaty right secured in 1855 in exchange for much of what is now the spectacular Olympic National Park. And yet, the “Cape People” voluntarily gave up whaling in 1920 after commercial whalers wiped out the migrations off their coast. When they secured U.S. and international permission to resume the hunt in 1999 following the de-listing of the gray whales, animal rights activists poured into Makah Country and started a war on the water before the world’s media. This episode traces how The Makah, with the support of their tribal brothers throughout Indian Country, weathered the worst, made a powerful statement, and started looking to the future. The special also examines The Makah’s extraordinary efforts to protect the northwestern-most corner of the Continental U.S. – including protecting the region from a catastrophic oil spill. As the only deep-water port along the first 70 miles of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Neah Bay is a critical station for a full-time rescue tug.
Culture & The Casino Business
Low-stakes gambling has always been a part of American Indian culture. Now, the stakes are as high as they come. Indian gaming is now a $25 billion-a-year industry that has transformed some impoverished tribes into major financial and political players in their communities. During the current economic crisis, it’s one of the last growth sectors of the American economy. Some 227 tribes now operate 419 gaming facilities in 30 states. Although many tribes have not been able to ride the industry's boom because they’re in locations too remote to operate successful facilities, the casino biz is still holds one of the greatest promises in Indian Country. But can culture co-exist with The Gambler? For the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest tribe, gambling has deep cultural resonance. Their oral tradition includes stories warning about the dangers of overindulging in gambling. Many feature a character known simply as “The Gambler,” whose skill wins him nearly everything in the universe but nearly costs him his life. It's a familiar story throughout the Hopi and Zuni reservations as well. But for a reservation plagued by poverty and an unemployment rate that hovers around 50 percent, Navajo leaders are looking to casinos as an opportunity to spur economic development on the vast reservation that stretches into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.
El Fin del Mundo: The Last of the Fuegians
This spectacular, unprecedented special takes viewers to the southernmost human-habitated place on Earth, the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, the last frontier of Chile and Argentina. The indigenous people here belonged to several tribes, including the Ona (Selk'nam), Haush (Manek'enk), Yaghan (Yámana), and Alacaluf (Kawésqar). Some were "the canoe people," inhabiting the coastal regions and relying heavily on sea lions and other marine life. Others, like the Selk-nam, lived inland and survived primarily by hunting guanacos, majestic wild relatives of llamas that still populate Tierra del Fuego. Native Fuegians however do not. When Europeans, Chileans and Argentines settled on the islands in the mid-19th century, they brought with them measles and smallpox for which the Indians had no immunity. Where the population wasn't devastated by these diseases, they were hunted down like wild vermin, with bounties put on their heads. Some were even kidnapped by a French expedition a century ago and put on display as "cannibals" in cages under the Eiffel Tower, fed scraps of meat before gawking Parisians. Their numbers plummeted from several thousand in the 19th century to hundreds in the 20th century. Today, there is only one – Cristina Caulderon, the last surviving original Yamana, now living in Puerto Williams, Chile. To the Fuegians, this may be el fin del mundo, the end of their world, but we're just beginning to learn the lessons of their tragic story. And with numerous "undiscovered" tribes still thought to be living in the wilds of South America, threatened by both old curses (disease) and new (energy development, deforestation and climate change), the cautionary tale of the First Nations of Tierra del Fuego is as urgent as ever.
Chief Leschi & How to Unhang an Indian
This final installment in the series is a very special history lesson – as only Billy Frank Jr. can give. Billy’s a Nisqually Indian. All his life he’s been hearing and passing along the story of the hanging of the greatest Nisqually of all – Leschi, War Chief of the Medicine Creek Nations during the 1855-56 “Indian War” between the Territory of Washington and the Tribes of Puget Sound. Leschi was the first recorded case of capital punishment in the Territory. The Chief's descendents and historians now agree it was a travesty, a “legal murder” at the hands of his Leschi’s nemesis, Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens. They say Leschi was wrongly put to death for the killing of an enemy combatant – A.B. Moses, a Colonel in the Territorial Volunteer Militia who was serving with the U.S. Army troops based at Fort Steilacoom. His hanging remains a deep wound in Indian Country here, as well as a source of shame among much of the non-Native community – Leschi’s name adorns elementary schools, parks and a neighborhood in Seattle, even on a building on the Army base that once confined him. An unprecedented Resolution from the Washington State Legislature asked the State Supreme Court to vacate Chief Leschi's conviction and de-publish the record of murder. In response, Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and the descendants of Leschi and the Nisqually Tribe decided to convene a “Historical Court of Justice” at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. On December 10, 2004, the judges reviewed and ruled on the case one more time. The verdict – not guilty. Nearly a century-and-a-half after his hanging, Chief Leschi was at last exonerated. For tribal members and descendants of the Tribe's last Chief, it was at long last an opportunity to set the record straight and clear Leschi's name.
BROADCAST PARTNER / First Nations Experience (FNX)
THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr. is proud to launch nationally over an exciting new Native-centric broadcast network.
Until today, the stories and voices of Native American and indigenous cultures seemed lost or silent. Now it's changing as a result of a new partnership between the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and public television station KVCR – the launch of FNX, an innovative multimedia showcase of content centered around the First Nations Experience. FNX is a 24/7 multi-platform digital media experience dedicated as an outlet for Native American and indigenous people to express and share their experience with authenticity and accuracy. With the technical expertise and Los Angeles-market resources of KVCR and the initial funding of San Manuel, the channel will bring into focus the vast and varied treasury of indigenous stories, cultures, issues and values from across North America and beyond.
SCHOLARSHIP and APPRENTICESHIP PARTNER / The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Northwest Chapter (Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Montana).
Billy Frank Jr. Scholarship / Julien Jacobs
The Board of Directors of THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is extremely happy to announce the first recipient of the Billy Frank Jr. Scholarship! Julien Jacobs is an amazing young Native Alaskan multimedia journalist already with a long list of impressive accomplishments. Julien is from the village of Naparayaraq, aka Hooper Bay, and Bethel, Alaska. We met him through Victoria Hykes Steere, Associate Professor at Alaska Pacific University/Institute for Village Resilience and Member of the Board of Directors of THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY.
Julien's also a 19-times-decorated combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, and who as a 20-something NCO in the U.S. Marines was tasked with training over 900 Marines in 60+ countries. After leaving the USM with the rank of Sergeant E-5, Julien came back to his Native Alaskan community and immediately dedicated himself to improving his skills as a video journalist and indigenous activist. He administered one of the world's largest and most diverse indigenous social networks of around 150,000, delivering social media of film vodcasts and documentaries through only a camera phone. He organized and filmed a six-month walk across America's Indian reservations, aligning over 450 tribes to deliver a Manifesto to Congress. He broadcast video in one day to over 21,000 indigenous people. He also began a series of educational Alaska Native Muppet videos for children. And one extremely impressive accomplishment – over the course of four months Julien traveled to four remote Native Alaskan villages to record in their traditional language over 200 hours of oral histories from Yup'ik elders. To do that, he had to cover a distance of some 1,300 miles – first on his snow machine, and then when it broke down, on just his skis.
Julien's also taken on some profound and complicated social issues in Indian Country. For three years he built traditional grounds that rehabilitated sex offenders, and OCS cases, and has trained trainers in health and wellness who have a 93% success rate in treatment. We can't imagine a more qualified candidate for such an honorably named scholarship. We're anxious to help him source additional training and improve his production skills, upgrade his equipment (maybe a real camera this time instead of his cellphone!), and continue mentoring him and getting him connected with producers and involved in ongoing broadcast journalism projects, including THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr.
One of Julien's immediate interests is to continue to document the impacts to Native Alaskan villages like his own Naparayaraq, rapidly eroding due to climate change. He clearly met one of the main criteria for this scholarship – a lifelong commitment to his people and community.