In May 2014, Indian country lost a hero with the death of Billy Frank, Jr. The Nisqually activist was a leader in the "Fish Wars," holding "Fish-Ins" in the Pacific Northwest to assert the fishing rights guaranteed to Tribes by treaty. Frank and the protesters he led were repeatedly arrested during the decade-long Fish Wars simply for fishing in their historical territories. Victory was achieved in 1974, when a District Court ruling affirmed the Tribes' rights and established the tribes as natural resources co-managers with the State of Washington. After the ruling, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission was formed, an organization Frank chaired for more than 30 years.
Frank was politically and culturally important, but he was also simply "Uncle Billy," a beloved figure whose passing really did feel like a death in the family for Natives everywhere. Here's a poem submitted by ICTMN reader Melanie Studley.
Cast Out Your Net, Billy Frank
Cast out your net Billy Frank
The world has lost a good son
Some will not know and never have heard
Of the many great things you have done
But who is not touched by the salmon?
Made better when all cultures thrive?
So cast out your net old Billy Frank
For the Indian people survive
The wind does not know who it touches
The river what life it sustains
Your net knows not who it catches
But the Indian way remains
So cast out your net to the heavens
Catch all of the Salmon you wish
Return to the earth, your mother and father
And visit again as a fish
Melanie Studley is White Earth Chippewa from the Bear Clan. She is an artist, wife, mom and singer. Her husband is from the Catawba Indian Nation in South Carolina and works as a Clinical Supervisor and Manger for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. They live south of Seattle with their 3 kids.