Last week, the nation suffered a great loss as Billy Frank, Jr. walked on. There is no better example of what it means to be a modern tribal leader than Billy.
Billy fought tirelessly to protect our salmon and treaty rights. I don’t use the word “fought” lightly – Billy repeatedly put himself in harm’s way to protect our very way of life. He was a true warrior, fiercely dedicated to his people. Billy also genuinely loved his community and never passed up the chance to share a story, a lesson, or a laugh with a child.
My fellow tribal leaders and I are feeling the loss of his wisdom and integrity amongst ourselves. Billy knew the power that could be had by leaders of many communities joining together, fighting to protect our shared interests, working to preserve our individual cultures, and leading all Native people forward. We all now must work to live according to his teachings without his direct guidance.
Billy lived as a citizen of the Nisqually Indian Tribe and as a proud Native man. He was dedicated to his tribe and his people while treasuring his place in the family that is all Native people. His battle on behalf of the sacred salmon was not just for the Northwest tribes. It was for us all.
Those of us who have been honored with leadership positions at NCAI strive to follow Billy’s example. In each of their own ways, leaders like Ron Allen, Susan Masten, Tex Hall, Joe Garcia, and Jefferson Keel have fought their own battles to preserve the old ways and bring Indian country together. Every day I ask the Creator to bless me with some of their strength and wisdom.
All of us – tribal leaders, teachers, parents, and youth – should try to live as Billy did: passionately fighting for our people, Native people.