Shelton, WA @ Squaxin Tribal Event Center (Sunday, 5-11-14) — A great and ancient spirit Cedar tree fell in the forest May 5, 2014. Billy Franks Jr. was easily the best known NW Indian, the Nelson Mandella of his people and indigenous people across the face of America and Canada. An internationally recognized leader respected even by his enemies who once persecuted him for standing tall in the defense of the environment and his people’s ancestral treaty rights, he overcame the anger which must have gnawed at him after 59 arrests, jail, and even having his face pressed into the mud of the Nisqually under the boot of a Fish & Wildlife officer. Today, Senators, Congressmen, and Governor Inslee eulogized him. An American flag flown over this nation’s capital in his honor was presented to his son, Willy. There were songs, tears, drums, and oceans of respect as love for this legendary man from across the political spectrum by every race/ethnicity poured out in the crowded cavernous Squaxin event center attended by thousands. President Obama acknowledged Billy’s passing. The Governor had ordered the State flag to be flown at half mast on the capitol campus.
Yet, curiously, photojournalists were prohibited from bringing their cameras to the funeral billed as ‘public’ and of keen interest to Americans everywhere even with the promise no photos would be taken inside. One Island Enterprise employee graciously offered to hold the reporter’s camera equipment during the services in a ‘PRESS’ room with video feeds for the news people gathered there. This room was located in the Little Creek Casino’s hotel above the poker room. (One eulogy offered the observation the NW tribes were not only a ‘gaming’ people, but a fishing people.)
After trusting the white unnamed Squaxin employee with the camera and gear (more trust than the photojournalist was getting), an effort to enter the throng was made. The interior revealed a massive crowd spilling out into an outdoor overflow tent with large screen live monitors generously distributed inside and out. A number of commercial scale tripods and video cameras were noted in addition to the ones permanently mounted atop the pillars supporting the huge roof. Spotlights had been arranged to illuminate the podium. Flashes from the crowd testified to pictures being taken despite the official ban. It was learned the video being taken was being broadcast across the internet in a live stream/podcast format. The excuse the Frank family wanted no photos taken during the service began to seem thin.
Adding to the temporary confusion was one woman tagged as yet another employee who spotted the “PRESS” button worn. She averred the ‘family’ wanted no ‘press’. Recognizing the ‘press’ was inherently PART of the ‘public’, the reporter removed the button and stuck it in his pocket. “It’s too late,” she insisted, “I already saw it.” “Look, be reasonable,” he argued. Catching her momentarily blank expression, he thanked her and quickly disappeared into the crowd.
After taking in the breadth of the service, nervousness about the camera gear prompted this photojournalist to leave before the wooden casket was ushered into the black Cadillac hearse waiting outside in order to locate the ‘PRESS’ room where it was promised it would be safely held. (Google glass might have been just the ticket on this occasion.) Billy was to be taken to a local Indian Shaker Church cemetery for burial, but the decision to skip the grave side service and dinner later that evening was made given the official antipathy to independent press coverage. Still, it was noted the vehicle procession to the burial site was a long one…a very long one, generating a seldom seen traffic jam in rural Mason County.
A few helpful directions found the huge PRESS room with equally huge monitoring screens occupied by hundreds of vacant folding chairs except for two intrepid photojournalists from Seattle’s KOMO news. After introductions, stories were swapped regarding the event being covered. They allowed as how they had not been permitted to enter the building where the memorial services were being held, at least with their gear, which was large, heavy, and expensive. They’d chosen to stick with the gear rather than pursue the story. But, they’d been assigned as photojournalists, not gonzo journalists. When asked if the display monitors provided a resolution of broadcast quality (it wasn’t very good), they revealed they’d been instructed NOT to take photos of the displays either.
By this time, the removal of the casket from the hall was well underway and the KOMO guys (2) hoisted their gear accompanied by the Squaxin media minder to see what they’d be allowed to film now that the assembly had come outside. They were then told, upon arriving outside, they wouldn’t be allowed to photograph the procession either unless they did so OFF the casino property, which wasn’t much of a concession…in fact, it was no concession at all. The KOMO news team reacted very professionally and thanked their minder for his ‘help’ as they shook hands. They’d gotten NO footage, and by being chained to their gear, no story either other than what can be seen in the internet stream link above–which may be exactly the point!
This Billy Frank public funeral isn’t the first time an event signifying the end/beginning of an era has been ‘owned’/hi-jacked by those involved. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, public speeches, and legacy comes to mind. The King family invoked copyright claims to his “I have a dream” speech, et ux, for decades. Out of respect for a great leader, a legend, a maker of history, and his bereaved, who was going to challenge such an assertion?–no one!
When questions arise that are difficult to answer or are not forthcoming, following ‘the money’ provides a reasonable answer 95% of the time. So it is here. Being the number 1 employer in Mason County gives Island Enterprise, the corporate arm of the Squaxins, a lot of clout. Having their operations under the protection of a sovereign such as the Squaxin tribal government doesn’t hurt either. The contradiction between what was glibly attributed to the Frank family’s desires and the actual photojournalism going on during the public memorial services for Billy Frank suggests something more–much more, and at the same time, something less.
Billy Frank Jr. was a hero, a spokesman, a leader, and a diplomat of the order of Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But, he was not a wealthy man, nor is his family. He was a humble affable man whom the world came to embrace and love. That world would insist on acknowledging him en mass! To host such an event would be costly, an expense the Frank family was unable to sustain. But the Squaxins have always been superlative business people and Island Enterprise has done well in the gaming and hotel/event hosting business–extremely well. Two years ago, they spent over a million dollars hosting the Salish Sea canoe paddle on a building constructed singularly for that purpose then torn down. They graciously transported visitors to the tribal center to watch the week long ceremonies and hosted Indian tribal members from afar participating all the while. It was an awesome display of hospitality and solidarity. The Billy Frank public memorial service was no less so.
Still, the Squaxins are nothing if not shrewd business people. The best guess is they reached an agreement with the Frank family whereby they would receive exclusive rights to cover the event in return for sponsoring and paying for it–a considerable expense even for the Squaxins. In return, the tribe would benefit from the PR generated, both politically and economically. They would control the message and this would be a step to expand their event hosting business into the realm of the internet. Currently, the Little Creek Casino hosts major entertainers for a stiff admission fee. But an online presence opens up the possibility of charging a much reduced fee for subscribing to these events in the same way as, perhaps, a Netflix subscription, or online subscription to the newspaper of your choice. Billy Frank’s name is one that has immense political, social, economic, and PR value.
No, the thin pretext the Franks objected to news coverage at the public memorial service makes little sense given the number of large video cameras and lighting present. It makes much more sense Island Interprise wanted exclusive rights and the associated benefits which came with that. They wanted to ‘own’ the eulogies and love Billy Frank inspired. It was a pretty safe bet the expense would pay off in the long run–an expense the Squaxins were predisposed to make in any event, but had the advantage of a return in uncountable ways over time. When people thought of Billy Frank Jr., they would remember him though the lens Island Enterprise had held. His legacy would be ‘incorporated’ (as it were) into their business plan/strategy.
As for the memorial service itself, everyone who was anyone was there from every conceivable corner of the political, ethnic, and social spectrum. Senator Murray, Senator Cantwell, Governor Inslee, Norm Dicks, Dicks’ successor, anarchists, Zahid, his wife, Anne, ACAP (abolish cops & prisons) members, Marines, tribal leaders from every quarter, whites, blacks, reds, browns…they were all there. There was not enough time to allow for every notable/dignitary who wished to eulogize Billy. The relatively few who had such an opportunity revealed a Billy Frank given to affability, spontaneous explosions of well meant profanity, bear hugs, and overcoming great adversity, both personal as well as legal/political. He was a consummate diplomat, a keen judge of human nature and a sage. “People listen better if they believe you care about them,” he would say. He was also a father, grand father, and great grand father–a leader not only for his people, but for humanity as he staunchly defended the environment along with human rights. He was a man everyone could love and who even his enemies came to respect and embrace. Some present found common cause with native Americans in their struggle with an aggressively dominant federal government. Others recounted how Billy has been a U.S. Marine and, ironically, an MP during his service to this country. But Billy was also a member of the tribe (Nisqually) who had their Chief (Leshi) hung as a ‘criminal’ by Governor Stevens–a stain upon the history of Washington territory. Billy’s tribe had all their land appropriated except for 2 square miles out of the thousands of square miles which had been their home for countless generations. Of the 2 square miles left for them to ‘survive’ on, the U.S. Army though its surrogate, Pierce County, took half of that with the advent of WWI. It may have been no coincidence that Lakewood is the modern municipality within which the gallows for Chief Leschi once stood, where he was executed like a dog. Even U.S. Army commanders were appalled a man who lead his people against encroachments on their homeland would be dealt with in such a fashion–it was a violation of international prisoner of war protocol. Billy Frank came from a tribe forced to endure all this, overcame his anger at how his people and he, personally, had been treated to achieve a success no one could have predicted by virtue of his character, his forbearance, his leadership.
“I don’t believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking, They’re the measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How Healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That’s what I believe in.” -Billy Frank Jr.-
Billy’s family released some thoughts (Together In Heaven), they believe he must have for his many friends and admirers:
“My dearest friends and family, there are things I’d like to say; first of all, I’ll let you know I arrived here safe today. I am sending word from Heaven where I’ll dwell with God above; there are no tears and sorrow, there is only peace and love.
I had to leave you as my time on earth was through; loved ones waited for me just as I will wait for you. I missed them and am happy to be with them again. I want you all to know I’m here with family and friends.
God Gave me many tasks he wishes me to do; high up on the list is watching over all of you. Don’t think I do not hear you because I am out of sight; remember I am with you every morning, noon and night.
When your load gets heavy, don’t cry too many tears; then I can whisper to you what you will need to hear. I always will be near you to guide you through each day; remember when you need me I am just a thought away.
Our love will build a highway and our memories a lane; I’ll walk right down from Heaven and be with you again. Remember, when you miss me and I am on your mind; although you will not see me, I’ll be just a step behind.
When your life on Earth is over, and your soul is finally free; believe me when I tell you, you’ll be coming home with me.”
Place of birth: Nisqually River, Frank’s Landing
Date of birth: March 9, 1931 – Date of death: May 5, 2014
Burial Site: Indian Shaker Church cemetary (Mason County, WA)
Preceded in death by: 1st & 2nd wives, Norma and Sue Crystal; by his daughter, Maureen; by his parents, Willie Senior and Angeline.
Surviving family: 3 sons, Tobin “Sugar”, Tanu, and Willie Frank.
Pall Bearers: Neugie Kautz, Richard Trudell, Charles Wilkinson, Tobin “Sugar” Frank, Bucky Johns, Danny McGee, Reuben Wells, Joe Symonete, George Walters
FUNERAL SERVICES PROGRAM
Billy Frank Jr.: March 9, 1931 – May 5, 2014
Indian Shaker Church – Ministert Dennis Anderson
Services Coordinator – Robert Whitener (Squaxin Island) Introduction & Messages & Transitions
Color Guard – Posting the Colors
Reading from Ecclesiastics: A Time for Everything – Pastor Tandyy Charley (Quinnault)
TESTIMONIALS & REMEMBRANCES
U.S. Representative Norm Dicks
Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp
Author-Attorney Charles Wilkinson
Attorney Patricia Zell
Attorney Thomas P Keefe, Jr.
Squaxin Island Tribe Chairman David Loperman
First Alaskans & AFN – Willie Hensley
NCAI President Brian Cladoosby
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Attorney Richard Trudell (Santee Sioux)
Governor Jay Inslee
NWIFC Vice-Chair Lorraine Loomis (Swinomish)
Attorney Keith Harper (Cherokee)
State Senator John McCoy (Tulalip)
U.S. Representative Denny Heck
NWIFC Treasurer Ed Johnstone (Quinnault)
Tulalip Tribes Treasurer Glen Gobin
Scott Aiken of the Potowatamie Tribe from Kansas
Stillaguamish Tribe Chairman Shawn Yanity
Makah Tribe Chairman T. J. Green/NWIFC Justin Parker
12:45 – 1:00 PM
Indian Shaker Church – Minister Dennis Anderson
Shaker Closing & Removal of Casket from Event Center to Procession
1:15 PM Event Center
Singer Ray McCloud, Jr.
Prayer & Remembrance – Pastor Tandy Charley (Quinault)
Indian Student Singers – Jeremiah George
Lummi Nation Singers
Color Guard – Retiring the Colors
GRAVE SITE SERVICES
Indian Shaker Church Ceremony – Minister Dennis Anderson
Prayer Song – Frank Eaglespeaker
U.S. Marine Corps Flag Cover & Folding, 21-gun salute, Taps
Indian Shaker Church Ceremony – Minister Dennis Anderson
Lowering and Closing of the Grave
Return to Event Center
DINNER AT EVENT CENTER
4:00 – 4:30 PM, Begin
U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer
Other Dignitary Speakers
Presentations & Thanks
Indian Shaker Church – Minister Dennis Anderson