September 30, 2003

For many years, the tribes of the Pacific Northwest have advocated positive relations with the non-Indian community. It’s an historical fact that the footholds established by European and American settlers here would not have succeeded without our help. Our desire to be good neighbors continued through the years.

People today are often amazed when they realize the level of pain tribes have received in return for their neighborly ways. But we’re still here, and although we fight if cornered, positive and effective government-to-government relations remains one of our top priorities.

That’s just who we are.

Two centuries ago we fed those who came seeking fortunes in pelts, minerals and other natural resources, even though their descendants would ultimately cut up our lands. We brought fish to fledgling farmers, even though the industries they would develop would ultimately dam our rivers and leach poison into the sea. We brought clams and venison to the budding merchants, even though their government took our children away and their cities soon crowded us off our traditional homelands.

That’s just who we are.

In my lifetime, I was arrested many times for exercising rights guaranteed by treaty with the government of the United States, yet I served as a U.S. Marine in the Korean War. Tribal members have sacrificed more lives and limbs per capita in U.S. foreign wars than any other ethnic group.

Today, my message to you is the same. I open my arms to you on behalf of my people and on behalf of the salmon and other resources that sustain us.

I come to you with many concerns, and I do it with an open heart. It is time for you, whoever you are, to look around you and to realize that the ability of this land to sustain the continued onslaught of manifest destiny is at an end.

The population has grown too much. The conversion of natural areas into concrete roads and cities is taking too large a toll. The poisons in the water are too lethal. The impacts of wanton takings are too severe. The footsteps of western society on this land are too heavy of a burden for it to bear.

That doesn’t mean we want you to go away. You are here now and that makes you part of the land. But the time is now to look beyond your cars and houses and realize that your home is your watershed; your responsibility is to respect and care for it, as you would your mother. The meaningful response to overuse and pollution, climate change and salmon decline are limited only by our ability to work together toward common solutions.

In the words of a great chief, we are all connected. Our arms, as always, are open to you. We want to be good neighbors. Now, as always, we value the spirit of humanity-and that is who we all are.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

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For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer (360) 438-1180