One hundred and fifty years ago, the U.S. government persuaded Pacific Northwest Indian tribes to sign away their ancestral lands. In exchange, the government agreed to "protect" the tribes' right to fish for their sacred salmon. A century later, with state officials trying to regulate tribal fisheries out of existence, Bill Frank Jr., his sister Maiselle with her husband, Al Bridges, their three young daughters, and other tribal activists began a campaign of civil disobedience and legal challenge that ultimately led to the landmark Boldt decision, the Supreme Court—and victory.
Now thirty years later, Billy Frank continues to stand at the center of the ongoing fight for sustainable natural resource management in the Pacific Northwest and Maiselle, founder of Wa He Lut Indian School at Frank's Landing (the Frank family home), and her daughters work to keep Nisqually culture alive and active. The film is guided by an off camera voice representing the thoughts of Valerie Bridges, Billy's niece, who at age twenty drowned while swimming in the Nisqually River at the time of the "fish wars." Valerie was an ardent, articulate activist, and her presence is even today felt strongly among the tribes. The Way to the River is a one-hour documentary employing the story of Billy, Valerie, and their family to engage issues of racism, sovereignty, conservation, and effective approaches to social change.
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