indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Native American Bank - Native people investing in Native communities
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Ryan Wilson: Indian Country loses a great warrior in Billy Frank

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: billy frank, fishing, ryan wilson, treaties, washington
     


Billy Frank Jr., 1931-2014. Photo from Facebook

"God Damn Son of a Bitch!" was my favorite Billy Frank Jr quote. It was usually prefaced by a professorial lecture on issues like water quality, marine biology, salmon genes, habitat, forestry, treaty rights and so forth. Breaking from a Harvard style vernacular on science Billy would get fired up and lay into some politician or agency, when it came to protecting salmon he would spare nobody.

The fishing and treaty rights warrior has gone home, even at the age of 83 it seems unfair and too soon. Anyone who knew Billy was looking forward to his 90th birthday celebration, and figuring he would break the century mark. Billy didn't just live a full and rich life he led probably three or four full lives by Indian standards.

Much will be written in the coming days of the Northwest fishing wars, the revival of treaty rights and his leadership in both. I want to share another side of his life. I always viewed Billy as a quintessential educator.

I've known Billy for most of my life but only started working with him in 1999 when I enlisted as one of Joe Delacruz's and Ron Allen's foot soldiers in the famous Native Vote effort to retire U.S. Senator Slade Gorton. When Joe D. passed away Billy and Ron Allen became the face of the campaign. Both empowered me to mobilize youth and college students as well as organize the campaign's signature Native vote rally on the University of Washington campus.

With Joe Delacruz's military flag flying high over the outdoor rally on the U of W's flag pole Billy took to the stage and delivered his iconic "Salmon Vote" speech. We registered 1500 enthusiastic Democratic voters that day and launched a tidal wave of momentum that would end the great Indian fighters political career.

As the years passed Billy would become a regular featured speaker at the Northwest Indian Youth Conference, Indian countries oldest and largest gathering of Native youth. He would inspire the 7th generation to take up the great cause of treaty rights and careers in Indian Affairs. He lectured relentlessly at regional colleges and high schools educating an entire generation of both Indian and non-Indian youth about the Boldt decision, Supreme court and treaty rights. Billy was appointed by Governor Mike Lowry to serve on the Board of Regents for Evergreen State College which later became a premier venue for Indian country. He loved spending time with students and they loved him.

In 2008 the National Indian Education Association chose Billy to keynote its annual convention in Seattle, Washington. I had the honor of introducing Billy to the NIEA delegates as he approached the stage. Three-thousand members rose to their feet and delivered an ovation to both say thank you and provide encouragement. His address rambled at first then caught rhythm and eventually caught fire. His message was simple, schools had to integrate curriculum that taught Indian law, Indian Rights, Treaties, and so on, that we had to contextualize education and bring living history into our classrooms. That we had to own our educational destiny.

As he concluded the delegates once again rose to their feet and gave him rock star treatment. This was an important moment for Billy. He had always garnered attention of an icon at Affiliated Tribes Northwest Indians and at National Congress of American Indians, but the outpouring of support at NIEA validated his many years, often lonely traveling to classrooms and campuses to tell our story - Indian country's story.

Election cycles never end, and on the heels of the 2000 upset of Slade Gorton the team got together again for the 2004 Presidential election. This effort culminated with the Native vote rally in the Tacoma Dome. Billy's close friend the late Senator Daniel Inouye attended as did other US Senators and a Washington State Gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire (who won by 200 votes). While we were unsuccessful in the Presidential election, Northwest and national politics had arrived at the reality that the Native vote counts and not only does it swing elections it swings majority control in both houses of Congress.

Billy, like in the fishing wars was on the front lines of Native vote, when others were playing it safe with politics he was swinging for the fences and fearless in spending or losing his personal political capitol. If all leaders in Indian affairs showed this conviction and fortitude Indian country would be a lot better off.

When my term as President of NIEA ended in 2006 I still had a lot of unfinished business in the field of Native language revitalization so I launched the National Alliance to Save Native Languages, a single issue advocacy organization. I called Billy and asked if he would serve on the advisory board, without hesitation he accepted. The purpose of my request was not because of friendship or a need to appoint well known folks but because of a story he once shared.

In the heat of the fishing wars Washington State Attorney General Slade Gorton put treaties on trial in a series of legal actions. In a pivotal hearing Billy's father Billy Frank Sr. began conversations from the witness stand with other elders close to the bench in their Coast Salish language. Gorton objected vehemently but the judge overruled his objection under the auspices of a translator being needed.

The elders were actually discussing strategy and how to answer questions. Billy shared that their language played no small role in the subsequent judicial victory. Billy believed in Native languages and knew that was how his ancestors communicated and strengthened their blood tie to salmon. The Boldt decision gave life to treaty rights and salmon at the same time, both were hanging on by the slenderest of threads in a perilous state.

Northwest Indians believe salmon are people and closely related to humans not only did Indian country lose one of its greatest individuals, the salmon people have lost their greatest champion.

Ryan Wilson is an Oglala Lakota, and President of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages. Wilson is also a former National Indian Education Association President. E-mail: oglalawilson@gmail.com


Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
First Lady Michelle Obama shares story of hope with Indian school (5/26)
Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama at Santa Fe Indian School (5/26)
Gary Davis of NCAIED joins Small Business Administration council (5/26)
Arne Vainio: A mother's gift carried me through many life journeys (5/26)
Native Sun News: Tribes score big in fights against energy projects (5/26)
Lakota Country Times: Education Secretary hears from Pine Ridge (5/26)
Ivan Star Comes Out: Ending Whiteclay beer sales starts at home (5/26)
Vi Waln: Rosebud Sioux youth lead efforts to bring relatives home (5/26)
Gyasi Ross: Drug epidemic sweeping through Native communities (5/26)
Jacqueline Keeler: Shameful and skewed poll on racist NFL name (5/26)
Interview with Melvin Monette about Cobell scholarship program (5/26)
Auction house in France won't stop sale of sacred tribal property (5/26)
United Keetoowah Band installs new leader after impeachment (5/26)
Kewa Pueblo builds new community around historic trading post (5/26)
Eastern Cherokee elder translates 'Charlotte's Web' into Tsalagi (5/26)
Puyallup Tribe works to keep language alive for new generations (5/26)
Iowa Tribe offers free play on poker website ahead of full launch (5/26)
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe offers gaming options closer to home (5/26)
Kaw Nation receives national award for tribal gaming initiatives (5/26)
Indian Health Service reform efforts gaining steam on Capitol Hill (5/25)
Indian Health Service announces more hires at troubled hospital (5/25)
Keepseagle attorneys open application process for $38M in grants (5/25)
Three tribes enter cooperative agreements for buy-back program (5/25)
New leader selected for HUD's Office of Native American Programs (5/25)
Indian relay racers gear up for event hosted by Muckleshoot Tribe (5/25)
Cronkite News: Tribes seek return of property up for sale in France (5/25)
Native Sun News: Anti-suicide effort incorporates tribal traditions (5/25)
Lakota Country Times: Pine Ridge youth showcase film projects (5/25)
Mark Trahant: Native vote victory for Tawna Sanchez in Oregon (5/25)
Brandon Ecoffey: Lakota people come together in times of need (5/25)
Editorial: Tribes must come up with plan for return of Black Hills (5/25)
John McCoy: Disenrollment and blood quantum are not our way (5/25)
Adrian Jawort: Addressing race relations and healing in Montana (5/25)
Fort Peck Tribes oppose new directive on transgender students (5/25)
Leader of United Keetoowah Band ousted through impeachment (5/25)
Agua Caliente Band launches software development company (5/25)
Sen. Barrasso to chair platform committee for GOP convention (5/25)
Cowlitz Tribe welcomes discussions with opponent over casino (5/25)
Little Traverse Bay Bands open doors to Class II gaming facility (5/25)
Tuolumne Band celebrates 15th birthday with casino expansion (5/25)
Former Winnebago Tribe casino employee denies theft charge (5/25)
Proposed rule brings LGBT equality to tribal housing programs (5/24)
Chairman of Quapaw Tribe endorses Democrat Hillary Clinton (5/24)
Appropriations bill blocks new federal recognition regulation (5/24)
Native American Children's Safety Act clears final Hill hurdle (5/24)
9th Circuit won't rehear Tohono O'odham Nation gaming case (5/24)
Lakota Country Times: Army promises return of tribal children (5/24)
Native Sun News: New business sprouts up at Wounded Knee (5/24)
Mark Trahant: Tulalip citizen lands role in Democratic platform (5/24)
Brandon Ecoffey: Pine Ridge unites for search of missing men (5/24)
Men who went missing found dead on Pine Ridge Reservation (5/24)
Billy Mills: Flawed poll can't justify use of team's racist mascot (5/24)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.