Billy Frank — This is what Enduring Looks Like
A great man has left this life – the one we know together here on the bold curve of our planet. Billy Frank, a Nisqually Indian man who was born and lived his whole life long – all 83 years – among the people of the Nisqually Tribe, among the tribal people of the Columbia River, of the Pacific Northwest, of North America, of the globe. He accepted no slight to Native people individually or in groups. He accepted no slight to their relatives – the Salmon and other animal and plant beings – or to the natural world in which they and all of us live.
Billy Frank lived these things to the core of his being and in every single moment. It was never about self-aggrandizement. It was – and is – about what is right for everything living on the planet.
I had the opportunity to know Billy Frank when, over the past 10 years, I helped with an intercultural effort to advance the recognition of Indigenous Ways of Knowing in higher education and public policy – an effort that, in this decade, has meant calling explicitly for listening and, based on that listening, for action toward respect and equality, and at times toward the surrender of privilege. Sometimes that privilege is in unfair access to power and wealth. Sometimes it is more subtle – the privilege of asserting one way of knowing as the only right way.
Opposing unfair systems of privilege is hard in the extreme for people who have been beaten down with those systems’ oppressions. For those who benefit from those systems, seeing privilege (in the first place) and moving to equalize or give it up is also hard. It takes great maturity and courage. And because of the nature of privilege, it is always an option.
I learned about these things from Billy Frank – a man whose mark on the world stands him among the Great Leaders of All Time. Please get to know of this vital life. Learn about Billy Frank’s work. Here is an example of one source on “The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank.”
When I was preparing this website, I identified lifelong learning as a priority in high-character leadership. Erika, the web developer, asked for a photo and I chose one of Billy Frank – one taken when I was in the small circle of people listening to him.
Last Sunday, more than 6000 people gathered at the Squaxin event center in Kalmiche, Washington for the memorial celebrating Billy Frank’s life. The circle around Billy Frank is always that big. It is – always – bigger still.
Last Sunday was also Mothers’ Day. While the memorial service was underway, I stood with my daughter and husband on the top of Saddle Mountain in the Coast Range of Oregon. From that panoramic height I could look north over a hundred mile stretch of the Columbia River from Billy Frank’s Nisqually homeland in the east to the vast shifting sand bar where the river pours itself into the Pacific Ocean.
I had just learned of Billy Frank’s death that morning. And what came to mind up there among Ravens turning cartwheels across the breezes of the bluest of skies, were a few of his words. Just now I found them held in one of the many recent tributes to this giant and most generous human being.
For more than 60 years, Billy was in the center of action on behalf of the Nisqually people and of Native Americans throughout our country. “We aren’t going anywhere,” said Billy. And he proved it, time and again.