Country Today honors Northwest leader as international hero
N.Y. - Long before the Wounded Knee siege, even before the Alcatraz
takeover, the modern Indian resurgence began in the Pacific Northwest
with the struggle to regain treaty fishing rights.
celebration of this history and of a long life devoted first to
resistance and then conciliation, Indian Country Today is giving
the first annual American Indian Visionary Award to Nisqually tribal
elder and visionary Billy Frank Jr.
award will have its inaugural presentation at the National Press
Club in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26. Each year from now on, according
to the official invitation, it will honor an individual "who
embodies the highest qualities and attributes of leadership in defending
the foundations of American Indian freedom."
the ceremony, said the invitation, "will not only honor a prominent
national American Indian figure, but also chronicle, illuminate
and encourage, for this and future generations, the dedication that
is required to be made by American Indian people who, every day,
defend tribal freedoms."
at the age of 14 in 1945, Frank was arrested by police more than
50 times in the Northwest "fishing wars." As a much-honored
adult, he now serves as chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries
Commission, presiding over the restoration of the salmon essential
to tribal tradition.
influence goes far beyond fisheries, however. He is also a leading
spirit for the WaHeLut Indian School at Franks Landing in
Washington state. The school, with 128 students from 22 nations,
is preserving cultural knowledge for the next generation.
father, Willie Frank, the last full-blood Nisqually, died in 1983
at 104. Nearby is the Treaty Tree, where the Medicine Creek Treaty
was signed in 1854. As a traditional fishing site, Franks
Landing endured years of police raids in the 1960s and early 70s,
until the historic 1974 Boldt decision by U.S. District Court Judge
George Boldt, upheld treaty fishing rights. The school displays
Billy Franks 25-foot canoe and carved oars that were confiscated
by state game wardens in 1964 and not returned until after the U.S.
Supreme Court confirmed the Boldt decision in 1979.
a millennium observation, Frank recalled that his father witnessed
the change from the 19th to the 20th century as a young man living
on the Nisqually River. "He was born in a wooden longhouse
to parents who had lived on the same river throughout their lives.
The heritage of the Nisqually has been passed from generation to
generation through thousands of years.
the close of the 20th century, I am striving to help teach my own
sons all I can of our heritage. Im doing this because I know
it is their link to their traditional home on the Nisqually, and
their very existence as Indians."
born in 1931, began to make his own contribution to this tradition
in "fish-ins" and other protests through the 1960s and
early 70s, which earned him the name of "the last renegade
of the Nisqually." But with the victory in the Boldt decision,
he realized that something more was needed. He devoted the next
phase of his life to seeking conciliation and "cooperative
management" in reviving the natural resources of the Northwest.
He argued that "common-sense compromise" rather than court
intervention would produce more effective solutions.
co-founded the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents
20 Washington tribes in negotiating with state and federal officials.
The results have been tribally driven salmon restoration programs
which have received national honors. According to the Biography
Resource Center, his "peace-making program has been modeled
in several states, resulting in solutions to numerous natural resource
has extended his efforts to a variety of environmental issues. In
1976, he worked with the Washington state government and the timber
industry to change logging and spraying practices. As a result the
bald eagle population increased dramatically in the Nisqually watershed.
In 1984, he helped to found the Northwest Renewable Resources Center,
which mediates conflicts in six states.
was a convener and leader in Washington states Timber/Fish/Wildlife
agreement and its Water Resource Planning Project, which resulted
in the "Chelan Agreement." These consensus agreements
on cooperative management were subsequently endorsed by the state
1992, he received the Albert Schweitzer Award for his "achievements
as a mediator between opposing interest groups and as a protector
of the fragile cultural and environmental heritage that all humanity
has brought this spirit to other arenas, as well. When Washington
state prepared to celebrate its centennial in 1989, some Native
sentiment opposed participation because of the long history of conflict
with the state. Frank agreed to serve as a member of the Centennial
Commission and as chairman of its Native American Committee, to
protect the interests of the states Indians. He argued that
the Commission should not celebrate the previous 100 years of tribal
relations, but "the changes to come."
the same time, he has maintained a strong voice for Indian interests.
In a January 2003 column, he celebrated the emergence of tribes
as "a political force to be reckoned with." He praised
successful tribal efforts through the First American Education Project
to defeat an "Indian fighter" candidate for the state
he offers Indian leadership to non-Natives in the advance to the
new millennium. In his reflection on the end of the century, he
wrote, "If non-Indians can learn to value the heritage of this
land, and to teach these things to their children, there is hope
that my grandchildren will see a better life at the confluence of
centuries to come."