‘Being Frank’: Turning the tide for Turtle Island

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The defeat of Initiative 933 and other results of the recent election instilled some new hope in me. Hope that there might be some public inclination, after all, to turn the tide of apathy. Hope that more of us might finally realize the most important things we can pass along to their children are pure water, clean air, and abundant fish and wildlife.

Now I know that much hope is a bit of pie in the sky. I don’t expect a raging fire of public discontent to suddenly flare up and demand that actions be taken to save the planet from degradation and pollution. I don’t expect to suddenly see all the dams removed, solar panels sprout on every house and urban sprawl to stop dead in its tracks. But maybe, just maybe, the election results will fan an ember – a spark of understanding that could generate momentum toward our goal to sustain Turtle Island in a way our descendants will be able to continue.

Tribes in some parts of the country refer to Mother Earth as Turtle Island. Their traditional symbol of the turtle is one that reminds people to move slowly as they do things that affect her. It reminds me that we carry our homes on our backs, in a manner of speaking. Our true homes are not plywood and concrete structures. No, our true homes are the watersheds that sustain us.

We must be more like the turtle’s cousin, the tortoise, who outran the hare in the fabled foot race. Rushing about madly, making decisions for the short term, does not help us live well in our region. We must go a little slower and take a longer view. We are not in a sprint. We are in a marathon, and the finish line is a long ways off.

You may have heard me say before that Puget Sound, the ocean and the land that sustains us are in trouble. Believe me, they are. When you turned down I-933 [Washington state’s property rights Initiative 933, which, had it passed, would have forced governments to compensate owners for land-use restrictions or waive the rules] you sent a message that you do listen, and you do care about these things. The power of the ballot has roared again.

But now what? Please don’t think defeating a bad initiative or electing good people to Congress and the Legislature every few years is the end of your responsibility as a citizen. It’s really just the beginning. It’s up to you to hold those elected representatives to account. Don’t let them get mired into smoke-filled caucus rooms in D.C. Communicate with them and share your thoughts with them – in every way you can. Likewise, don’t let the backers of the so-called property rights initiative take their case to Congress and the Legislature without being challenged.

No one has the right to scar Turtle Island at the expense of future generations. Our descendants have a right to inherit an Earth that sustains them, spiritually, culturally and economically.

I believe the defeat of I-933 sends a message – the people of this state do care about good stewardship. And that gives me hope.

<i>Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and recipient of the Indian Country Today 2004 American Indian Visionary Award.