Schools at Tulalip learn about legendary fishing hero

TULALIP – Prior to this week, many Native American students in Tulalip didn’t know much if anything about the legendary Billy Frank Jr. They do now. Chelsea Craig of Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary came up with a curriculum for all grades to learn about Frank. He is most-famous for fighting for fishing rights that led to the Judge Boldt decision in 1974. At an assembly to celebrate Frank Thursday at the school, Frank’s son, Willie, was among the hundreds in attendance. He was obviously moved by the tribute to his dad.

“The song brought tears to my eyes,” he said, referring to a song sung by fourth-graders about Frank, but to the tune of B-I-N-G-O. The class made posters with the letters B-I-L-L-Y instead.

Willie encouraged the audience to keep up the fight. The battle now is to save the environment. “It’s up to all of us to tell our story,” he added.

Tulalip Heritage High School students also attended.

Senior Cyena Fryberg said, “I hope you all enjoyed learning about Billy Frank as much as we did.” Myrna Red Leaf, another senior, said she respects Frank for never giving up.

Craig inspired the students, saying any one of them could become a legend like Frank. “It takes one match to start a fire. What are you waiting for?”

Glen Gobin, who knew Frank for 35 years, said Billy went to jail over 50 times fighting for what he believed in. All he wanted was to continue the traditions of what Native Americans had been doing throughout history. The treaty Frank fought to keep alive said the tribe would not give up its traditions of hunting, fishing and gathering.

Gobin continued saying as Frank aged, his focus changed from fighting Fish and Wildlife to improving the environment. “Fish declined, but not because of fishing, because of habitat,” he said, adding pollution and wells diminished water quality. “Til the day he died he attended habitat meetings,” Gobin said.

The elementary school celebrated Frank every day this week. Fifth-graders came up with daily activities – such as fish day and spirit day. They also made a video and a long piece of artwork they paraded around the gym for all to see.

“I didn’t know there were that many fish in the world,” tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon said.