Statement on the Passing of Billy Frank, Jr.
Posted on May 12, 2014
Everyone has stories of Billy Frank whose presence and breadth of touch on people’s lives is almost incomprehensible. The story of his life is one of protecting his people and so many others. His passing will leave a void that cannot be filled by just one – - it will have to be filled by many.
My memories of Billy include attending meetings during the early days of the creation of the “Our Natural Resources” intertribal organization or tribal natural resources organizations that includes many strong and important leaders in Indian Country focusing on our shared natural resources and the importance of those resources to our lives, our foods, our cultures, and our existence. I remember so vividly every time I had the honor of talking with Billy about tribal governments and their important roles in sovereignty over our natural resources. These issues in the coming and continuing days of climate change are integral not only to our own communities but vital to give voice to our lands and resources.
Billy Frank reminded all of us that we have to stand up and speak up for our natural resources and our treaty rights, for many reasons, not the least of which is they are our link to our foods. He knew the importance of our reaching across seemingly huge divides and bringing others into a greater understanding so that we are all stronger as we prepare for the future.
We will never forget his smile, his laugh, his warm way of climbing into our hearts even while he was challenging us to be bigger than we thought we could be. He challenged us to never forget the treaties that impact our natural resources, our foods, and he challenged us to not think small, but to think big, to know that our actions today will impact our young people as they grow older and that we have a responsibility to the next generation in our midst.
Our hearts go out to his family and the Nisqually people and all the people of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission whose lives he touched most directly and every day. Our work at the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative will always carry the impact of Billy Frank. We will do our best to make sure the young people who work with us know of Billy, even if they never had a chance to meet him in person. They need to understand that courageousness in leadership is critical. Billy embodied courage in leadership and we all must join and work together to live out the next steps Billy knew we must take, together.
Janie Hipp, Director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, University of Arkansas School of Law