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The Project

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Vocation / Education / Entertainment / Empowerment

Created by Billy Frank, Jr. and Michael Harris

Hosted and Narrated by Billy Frank Jr. and Willie Frank III

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, Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Baby Wild Films, Pacific Image Productions, the Northwest Chapter of the National Association of Television Arts & Sciences, Snoqualmie Tribe, 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 Willie Frank and the travels of his father to these spectacular and far‐flung locations, immersing in these cultures, witnessing stories and telling their own, and bringing to the non‐Native world a deeply honest and absolutely engaging experience with Indian Country. THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is more than a television series.  It is direct action education – it a platform-transcending, living, learning tool customized for each curriculum, designed to be adaptable to all students young and old, sometimes even delivered personally to classrooms and community centers by Willie, 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 was a human right. In his lifetime, it was 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.

zs-TIIC Slide eeo-e8-BWFslideshow45-1Working 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 doesn't just parachute into a location like many TV crews do, shooting for a few days and then never returning. It will build lifelong relationships. 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 used to say, “We still need to pound our fist on it from time to time.” 

MHandBillyFrankIMG 1057 smBilly Frank Jr. and Michael Harris, at Billy’s 80th Birthday Party, attended by over "800 of his closest friends," including Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.

The series was hosted and narrated by the great Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, winner of the Northwest Regional Emmy Award for “Outstanding On-Air Host or Moderator.”  Billy finished two of nine planned specials before his death in 2014, shooting several segments and interviews that never made it into the series.  His son, 33-year-old Nisqually leader Willie Frank III, will step in as host and narrator of the remaining specials, as part of a "Legacy Project," finishing a body of work that meant so much to his father.  THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY will take viewers from the Arctic (Inupiat Country) to the Subantarctic (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina/ Chile), the Nation of Hawai'i to the Pay-Ay-Okee (Everglades). 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). Created and 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."

TIIC LOGO RED TRANS  Principal Creative Michael Harris CV

Nine Hour‐Long Specials, Presented in 4K.


Hosted and Narrated by Billy Frank Jr. and Willie Frank III

Elwha3The New Fish Wars – The Fight for Puget Sound 
Today, an extraordinary 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 ecosystem here. The special looks back at the famous “Fish Wars” of the 1960s and ‘70s, the direct action led by people like Billy Frank Jr. which culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the tribes as co-managers, and 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. 

Barrow IMG 0125The 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 traveled 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. THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY 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. 

f-TIIC Slide BWF MAST21 MAST HZT42Native Alaska & the Big Spill 
This special documents Billy Frank's 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's son Willie returns to Native Alaska to hear how protecting this extraordinary ecosystem, which was miraculously spared from the spill, may actually be the key to saving it all. 

za-TIIC Slide hawaiian-protest-2The 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.   

Tiger3The 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 William 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 Tribe of Indians of Florida, descendants of Indians who escaped deportation under President Andrew Jackson’s removal act in the 1800s. 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, Buffalo 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, and to get official recognition for the tribe. When the U.S. government said the tribe would lose its recognition in 1959, Buffalo Tiger traveled to revolutionary Cuba with other members of the tribe, where he was greeted by Fidel Castro and received government-to-government. Not long after his trip, the U.S. recognized the Miccosukee. Buffalo Tiger, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 94, would go on to design the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, legislation that allowed the secretaries of the Department of Interior and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue contracts and grants to Indian tribes. The act awarded Indian tribes with more sovereignty, eliminating the need for them to go through an Indian agent before going to the government. Today, they remain leaders in protecting the water quality of the Everglades. Host Willie Frank takes viewers on an intimate tour of Miccosukee Country with Buffal's son, Lee Tiger, to talk about the legacy of the great Pay-Hay-Okee warrior and the future of Native Floridians. 

Makah2 smThe 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 that could wipe out all creatures great and small, including the region's endangered killer whales. 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. 

072508casinoCulture & 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. 

selknam cazando smEl 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. 

Billy LeschiChief Leschi & How to Unhang an Indian 
This final installment in the series is a very special history lesson – as only Billy Frank Jr. could've given. Billy was a Nisqually Indian. All his life he’d 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. 


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 Julien2videos 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.