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:
Obama hosts his final White House Tribal Nations Conference (9/27)
Judge urges tribal coordination on complaint in #NoDAPL case (9/27)
More tribes settle trust fund lawsuits as Obama era nears end (9/27)
Memorandum of understanding for treaty rights in the works (9/27)
White House: Indigenous voices in the Obama administration (9/27)
President Obama praises Comanche Nation woman in speech (9/27)
Lakota Country Times: Clinic for Native veterans shut down (9/27)
Native Sun News Today: Statue brings community together (9/27)
Delphine Red Shirt: Start the healing process for our people (9/27)
Editorial: Newspapers shouldn't be beholden to government (9/27)
Albert Bender: Spill confirms fears on Dakota Access Pipeline (9/27)
Sierra Club: More review needed for Dakota Access Pipeline (9/27)
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation releases casino expansion study (9/27)
Remarks by Obama at White House Tribal Nations Conference (9/26)
President Obama signs bill to promote Native tourism into law (9/26)
Lakota Country Times: #NoDAPL lands before United Nations (9/26)
Native Sun News Today: Rosebud Sioux group celebrates win (9/26)
Clara Caufield: Look around because Indians are everywhere (9/26)
Rodney Butler/Kevin Brown: Tribes committed to new casino (9/26)
Gyasi Ross: Obama's legacy on the line with Dakota pipeline (9/26)
Steven Newcomb: Statue on Kumeyaay territory based on lie (9/26)
Peter d'Errico: Book encourages return to a 'tribal' way of life (9/26)
Review: 'Inspiring' documentary about Elouise Cobell's battle (9/26)
More California tribes welcome labor unions at gaming facilities (9/26)
Ho-Chunk Nation starts work on major casino expansion project (9/26)
Obama administration asks tribes about infrastructure projects (9/23)
House passes measure to combat illegal sale of tribal property (9/23)
Mike Rounds: Righting historical wrongs against Native citizens (9/23)
Indian Health Service names new medical officer in Great Plains (9/23)
Interior Department finalizes rule for Native Hawaiian relations (9/23)
Native Sun News Today: Democrat accepts invitation to debate (9/23)
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.