Since moving to the Pacific Northwest nearly seven years ago I could probably list as the number one beauty here, watching the salmon run, jump, move on their ancient journey.
I have never caught or fished for a salmon. I have nothing against it, just never the time or the guide to do so. But I do watch them. I make a point of going in the boat and just watching them jump all around. Every jump as awe inspiring as the first, surprise as if the last one I saw would be the last one. When you speak of salmon here, there is one name that has constantly come to the fore in my travels around this beautiful land, Billy Frank, Jr, Nisqually elder, fisherman, protector and advocate for the salmon. The name always comes up in the midst of the feelings of honor, awe, integrity, and purpose by those speaking of him. Several years ago while on a visit to the State Capital, I specifically visited an exhibit in the Secretary of State’s Office where Billy Frank, Jr. had a prominent presence. As part of that exhibit I bought a copy of the book, Where the Salmon Run: The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank, Jr.by Trova Heffernan. As these things go, it was still sitting in my pile of “books to read” when I heard the news of his death this past Monday. When I bought the book, I was intrigued by the stories I was told in the exhibit and those there who shared even more about him. When I arrived at home that night I opened the book, to the quote in the front by him,
For Sugar, Tanu, and Willie, “I’m dedicated to my children….and not only to my children but everyone else’s. Without my family…I could’ve never done any of this.
I put the book nearer the top. It was close to being read. A lot of my reading being directed by our diocese’s First Nation Committee and this one was coming up. I read about Spokan Garry, and The Round House by Louise Erdrich, and am now reading “If this is your land, where are your stories” by J. Edward Chamberlin. Just below this book about Billy Frank, Jr. is Vine Deloria’s Custer Died for your Sins. The book came to the top, I am reading it now. I am sad I never met Billy Frank, Jr. In our Christian tradition we believe in resurrection, that even though our physical bodies die on this earth, in the mystery of our God, we live on. Most spiritual paths have some version of this belief.
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 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. Those that listen to the world that sustains them can hear the message brought forth by the salmon.
That is how the book ends.
This is how it begins. Heffernan writes these first words.
Billy Frank, Jr. is a fisherman, and when he dies he hopes that’s how history remembers him.
It will, and for so very much more.