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Posted on September 15th, 2012, by

Charles Wilkinson’s book Messages from Frank’s Landing raises a number of important issues which reflect the major problems Indian communities have faced in the course of the history and which still affect the life of Native Americans. In fact, the author focuses his attention on the turning point in the history of Indian sovereignty in the Pacific Northwest. Wilkinson attempts to analyze the historical background of the native population and the policies conducted by the white authorities in the region which actually led to the gradual degradation of the traditional lifestyle of the local native population and a dramatic change in the principal socioeconomic activities carried out by the Indian population of the region.

In fact, the book presents a profound analysis of the history of the Indian tribes inhabiting the Pacific Northwest. Wilkinson argues that the Nisqually and Payullup Rivers historically belonged to Indian territories. Moreover, he lays emphasis on the fact that for 12,000 years these rivers have been the main source of food for the local tribes and the socioeconomic life of the local tribes were concentrated on the two rivers. In such a way, the author proves that the Nisqually and Payullup Rivers played a vitally important role for the normal functioning of Indian communities and, what is more important, he reveals the fact that these territories were originally under the control of Indians, while European settlers were aliens on these territories. Even after the colonization and following epochs, Indian tribes inhabiting the region preserved their rights on a part of these lands, though the territory of the reservation was consistently reduced after World War I, when the government broke a part of the treaty and took the land belonging to Indians for the construction of the Fort Lewis. In the course of the 20th century, the region was susceptible to the growing interference of whites into the socioeconomic life of the local community and local environment. To put it more precisely, the development of fishery and exploitation of the local natural resources increased steadily in the course of the 20th century.

At the same time, all these dramatic socioeconomic changes were the obvious violation of the existing treaties between the government and tribes inhabiting the region. In such a way, the author reveals the extent to which the policy of the official government was unjust and discriminatory in relation to the Native population of the Pacific Northwest. As the matter of fact, the government simply neglected the legal rights of Indians and sacrificed their traditional lifestyle and socioeconomic activities for the sake of benefits of the white population since the exploitation of the local natural resources by non-Indians, being the violation of existing treaties, resulted in the consistent limitation of Indians in their access to the local natural resources, and prevented them from fishing, which used to be the basis of their economic life.

In such a way, the survival of the entire community was under a threat because of the mercantile interest of the official government, who readily sacrificed the Indian community, its unique culture and traditional lifestyle for the sake of higher profits. In this respect, it is important to underline that the limitations of traditional socioeconomic activities of Indians, such as the limitation in fishing naturally affected the socio-cultural sphere of the life of the local community. Indians apparently could not lead a traditional lifestyle being limited in resources which were essential for their living. As a result, such a policy of the official government stimulated the reduction of the Indian population, the migration of the younger population and, therefore, put under a threat the preservation of the culture and traditions of the local community. Remarkably, the democratic government violated fundamental rights of the local communities and easily broke the existing treaties.

Wilkinson underlines that the opposition of the local community grew proportionally to the pressure from the part of the government and non-Indian companies and individuals who attempted to develop their business in the region. The author underlines that the intrusion of the whites in the region resulted not only in considerable socioeconomic changes in the life of the local Indian community, but it also led to the consistent pollution of the environment and led some of local species to the edge, to the extent that the survival of some species is now under a question. In such a context, the efforts of the Indian population to restore the existing treaties and to protect not only their human rights, but also to protect the environment from the negative influence of economic activities of the whites, are absolutely logical and just.

No wonder, Indians created the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and a number of public organizations in order to protect their rights and their lifestyle. In this respect, the book by Wilkinson is very important because it reveals the essence of the existing problems in the Pacific Northwest and in Indian communities. At the same time, the book shows that Indians’ position is justified by their legal rights and their historical rights to define their life in their land.

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