Archives: Storytelling and Mass Mobilization

Gunnar F. Barnes, A.A. (he/they) resides in Southern Tiwa lands. He is a senior at the University of New Mexico...

Header Image: “It’s Not Over Yet: NO LNG,” 2019, by Roger Peet, APS Print collection. This item is one of many posters relating to contemporary Indigenous activism, especially environmental activism, in the JustSeeds Collective collection held at the APS. The poster was created by artist Roger Peet in support of ongoing efforts to stop the Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal near the California-Oregon border. It is a reminder that battles for Indigenous sovereignty continue to this day.

From the beginning of my internship at the American Philosophical Society (APS), I knew I wanted to research Indigenous activism. Brian Carpenter, Curator of Indigenous Materials at the APS, suggested I look at the newly-arrived Sue Gilfillan collection because it is full of Indigenous rights stories. 

The collection was initially housed inside a gift box, but has since been re-housed into an archival storage box. The materials inside are newspaper clippings and booklets highlighting stories of Indigenous culture and the fight for Indigenous rights. As I was reading over the different newspaper articles, I noticed that the papers were not in chronological order by dates. I struggled to understand the story because the collection had not yet been processed. I used my cell phone to take pictures of the articles and then printed them on paper. When I returned to my apartment, I placed them in order, making my research easier for me to process.  

The unknown authors of these articles share stories about Indigenous peoples and their traditions, culture, and history—all of which are specifically written for Indigenous audiences. An example of what I found is a booklet titled “Indian-And Proud of It!” One of the pages of this booklet reads  "Fish-In: Indian Rights V, States' Rights," and describes how the Yakima, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Nisqually people fought for their traditional practices in the Pacific Northwest. Despite treaty rights guaranteeing Indigenous people the right to fish in their traditional rivers, U.S. law enforcement would arrest Indigenous people for fishing off the reservations. 

In 1963, many Indigenous nations in the Pacific Northwest organized a direct action called the "Fish-In" protest. A "Fish-In" was like a "Sit-In" from the Civil Rights Movement. At Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River in Washington State, Native and non-Native people would fish regardless of state officials, and other groups would march to the State Capital in support of the fishers. Both demonstrations gained public attention. In a 1974 court decision, Judge George Boldt ruled that the Indigenous Nations involved with the court case had the legal right to fish.

blue poster with images and text reading Indian--And Proud of it!
Indian-And Proud of It! U.S. National League of Women Voters. Sue Gilfillan Collection (Mss.SMs.Coll.123), American Philosophical Society.

To this day, many Indigenous Nations continue to fight for fishing, hunting, and water rights. I wish that non-Native people would understand that treaties between Indigenous Nations and the United States government are sacred agreements between two sovereign nations. When non-Native society fails to honor the treaties, we harm our relationships, respect, and responsibilities to Indigenous Nations and to the non-human world. When we allow law enforcement to arrest Indigenous peoples for protecting their rights, we state that the white man's law is more supreme than the treaties.  

photo of white lily
Photo of lily, taken by Gunnar Barnes at the APS garden.


Since the time of Gunnar’s internship, the Sue Gilfillan Collection has been processed. See the “Scope and Content” note in the collection guide for more information on the background of how the collection was assembled.

More from the blog