Puyallup Tribal Councilwoman Sylvia Miller calls her “an icon of the Puyallup Tribe” and that’s exactly what elder Theresa Maiselle McCloud Bridges is – in addition to being a very sweet and charming lady.
January has been big month for Maiselle, with her life being celebrated on her 94th birthday on Jan. 15, and then being celebrated again as Elder of the Month at the Puyallup Tribe’s elders luncheon on Jan. 19. An endless stream of friends and admirers came up to her at the luncheon for hugs and to bless her with well wishes, showing just how deeply loved and respected Maiselle is in her tribal community.
Throughout her lifetime Maiselle has taken part in many of the Puyallup Tribe’s historic moments, both as an activist and as an elected member of the Puyallup Tribal Council. She is perhaps best known for her bravery and strength during the Fishing Wars of the late 1960s/early 70s at Frank’s Landing, the epicenter of the battleground. Anyone who has seen the documentary film “As Long as the Rivers Run” knows Maiselle – especially from the gut-wrenching footage of her and sister-in-law Norma Frank being dragged up a rocky, muddy riverbank by state fish and wildlife authorities as Maiselle refused to let go of a fishing net they were trying to steal from her. She was one not to be messed with – tough and determined yet with a quiet power about her that only a Native woman of her stature could possess.
Maiselle’s daughter Valerie Bridges drowned in the Nisqually River under suspicious circumstances during the Fishing Wars, when she was just 20 years old. Daughter Alison (Bridges) Gottfriedson served on Puyallup Tribal Council and passed away in 2009, and both women were fishing rights warriors like their mother. Suzette (Bridges) Mills fought for Indian fishing rights and served on Puyallup Tribal Council as well, and she was at the Elders Center that day to enjoy the luncheon with her mom.
Maiselle was born to Angeline (Tobin) (McCloud) Frank (Nisqually Tribe) and Andrew McCloud (Puyallup). Her step-dad was William Frank Sr. (Nisqually), which brought her a half-brother Billy Frank Jr. (Nisqually) and half-sisters Elsie (McCloud) Capoeman (Puyallup) and Rose Fredericks (Puyallup), to join her birth-brothers Andrew McCloud Jr. (Puyallup) and Donald McCloud Sr. (Puyallup). Maiselle married Alvin Bridges (Puyallup), who has since passed, and had their three beautiful daughters Valerie, Alison and Suzette. Maiselle has many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren as well.
One of Maisell’s greatest achievements was working to establish Wa He Lut tribal school in Olympia. She wanted to do something for all tribal children for generations to come so that they wouldn’t go hungry in mind or body. She wanted a school for them to have plenty to eat – breakfast and lunch and a safe place for them, to watch over them and protect the children.
What is her secret to Maiselle’s longevity in life? “I never drank and I never smoked. Well, I tried to smoke but I couldn’t inhale and they’d make fun of me so I quit trying,” she said with laughter.
Here is a sampling of what tribal members had to say about Maiselle during her Elders Lunch honoring. Maiselle was so touched by the outpouring of appreciation that she shed tears – this is how humble this great lady is. “I love every one of you – each and every one of you. You’re all my darlings,” she said to the luncheon crowd.
Puyallup Councilwoman Sylvia Miller:
“Maiselle has contributed a lot to this Tribe. I can remember as a young, young kid, Maiselle and Suzette were both on Council with other great leaders like Ramona Bennett and Don Matheson. Without this woman, I really can say I don’t think we’d be where we are today. Her and many other individuals really contributed to this Tribe and we’re so blessed to have this building, to be able to share a meal together and to honor our people. A lot of other Tribes don’t get to do that. It gives me great honor to be able to honor her on this day. She’s made big impact on a lot of people.”
Puyallup Councilman James Rideout:
“Maiselle, from the bottom of my heart – thank you. You have provided a great opportunity for all of us, one that will always be cherished and remembered for years to come. I’ve always idolized all of you strong women to help us become who we are today. We love you with all of our hearts.”
Nephew Raymond McCloud:
“When we were kids we’d go out to Frank’s Landing and go swimming all the time. That’s where they had all the fishing wars, but we went swimming down there anyway with our grandparents and our aunts and uncles. When I reached five years of sobriety, my Aunt (Maiselle) honored me with this beautiful hat and that was 18 years ago. I love my Aunt Maiselle very much.”
Puyallup Councilman David Bean:
“I really want to say on behalf of Tribal Council and my family and the Tribe, we raise our hands to you Maiselle and thank you for the fight that you and your family engaged in. We’re always taught that we have to thank our ancestors and our elders. How can we honor you? We can honor you by continuing to carry on our efforts to not just protect our right to fish, but to protect the resource itself. We can continue honoring you by sharing the stories that you were engaged in with all of your contemporaries at a time. You guys have done so much more with so much less resources simply for survival – to put food on the table. You put food on tables for generations – each and every one of you weren’t just thinking of yourselves; you were thinking of your children, grandchildren and children yet to be born.”
Former Puyallup Councilwoman Nancy Shippentower:
“Aunt Maiselle is the eldest elder in our family. I just want to remind you that the Cascadia building was taken over by three ladies on Council who are sitting here right now (Maiselle, Ramona Bennett and Suzette Mills). We have a lot of good memories of Frank’s Landing. Aunt Maiselle, we love you and we are always here for you.”
Former Puyallup Councilwoman Ramona Bennett:
“What David (Bean) said is really important. Right now, Puget Sound Energy is trying to build a refinery and storage tank for 8 million gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) that has the potential of blowing us all up but the long range problem is 200 tons of toxic, poison emissions that are going to fall on our water and the land. You all remember what Asarco did to the shellfish – this has the potential of wiping out our salmon. The battle continues. Maiselle is one of my heroes. I never knew growing up that being sober was an option. I grew up in a drinking home and I never knew that being sober was an option. Maiselle and her girls taught me that it’s a choice and probably saved my life, so she’s a hero in many ways to me. We just need to continue fighting to protect our salmon. That’s what we’re here for and that’s what we need to do.”
Puyallup Councilwoman Annette Bryan:
“I just want to say that I am honored to be here as the granddaughter of Lucille Reed and the great-granddaughter of Hattie Cross. I really appreciate that groundbreaking foundation that Maiselle and other strong warrior women laid for us. I am honored to be able to pick up some of that work and try to keep it alive and moving forward. My mother, Sharron Nelson, said Maiselle is our original Woman Warrior and she deserves everything we can do for her. I am so honored to be in your presence and I’m blessed and humbled by everything you’ve done for us.”