American students need to think long term, work hard and have trust
to improve themselves, their school and their region, Indian activist
Billy Frank Jr. said Tuesday.
"Nothing happens if you just sit
around," Frank told Eastern Washington University students
and guests during a speech for Indian Awareness Week.
"You just don't go out the door and
smell the roses ... you plant cedar trees. We'll never see them
tall, but our children will."
Frank, 71, became famous for not sitting
around when Northwest Indians found their treaty-guaranteed fishing
rights were threatened by state and local governments.
Born and raised along the Nisqually River
between Tacoma and Olympia, Frank was 14 the first time he was arrested
for violating state fishing laws.
At the time, the US Army had taken much
of the Nisqually Reservation to build Fort Lewis, and the state
argued that tribal members had no special treaty rights to fish
off their reservations.
Frank, his father, Willy Frank, and others
challenged the state's interpretation of the treaties, purposely
fishing in areas the state was trying to close.
"I just kept on getting arrested,"
Frank told the crowd at EWU's Showalter Hall.
"The judge would tell us not to fish,
and we went fishing."
At first, they were thrown in with a wide
range of criminals -- although everyone claimed to be innocent and
a great legal strategist, he recalled. After a while, Pierce County
set up a special cell for the Indian fishermen, where they went
as soon as they were booked in, with automatic trustee status.
The fishing protests drew support from
such celebrities as Marlon Brando, the Grateful Dead and basketball
star Bill Walton. Frank marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the
South, and civil rights activists took up the cause of the tribal
The case was finally decided in the 1970s
in federal court, when US District Judge George Boldt agreed with
the tribes that treaties gave them the right to half of the annual
Boldt was a conservative, Frank said,
but he listened to the tribal elders when they explained how salmon
was essential to Indian life.
"We knew the US justice system would
work for us at some time in our lives," Frank said.
The Boldt decision wasn't the end, but
the beginning, Frank said. Federal law soon gave tribes a place
at the negotiating table. But they had to sit down with the state,
the Army, the dam operators, the commercial and sport fishing interests,
the ports and the businesses to find ways to keep the salmon healthy
and the water clean.
"We're still working at it today,"
In a similar way, Native American students
should "keep moving on" as they look for ways to build
on their Indian Studies Program and the cultural opportunities,
he said. The campus has a longhouse, he noted, but students need
to be sure people know its meaning, and to use it for meetings and
"Things don't start big, they start
little," Frank said.
"It's a small world, and there's
more good people than there is bad people. Bring them together."