Association on American Indian Affairs
On March 6, 2019 during its annual Impact Week in Washington, DC, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes (MAST) hosted an honoring of long-time tribal leader, Frank Ettawageshik. Frank is a renowned artist, storyteller, tribal leader, friend and advisor to many, as well as a formidable defender of tribal sovereignty, and an avid cultural preservationist. Additionally, a donation establishing a new initiative, named in honor of Frank, was initiated in collaboration with the Association on American Indian Affairs to promote indigenous cultural resources protection.
Frank is the former Chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. During his 14-year tenure as Chairman, Frank was instrumental in the adoption of the Tribal and First Nations Great Lakes Water Accord in 2004 and the United League of Indigenous Nations Treaty in 2007.
Frank now serves as the Executive Director of the United Tribes of Michigan and wears many other hats including the Board President of the Association on American Indian Affairs, the Chairman of the United League of Indigenous Nations Governing Board, a Co-chair of the National Congress of American Indians Federal Acknowledgment Task Force, and an advisor to the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes (ACET).
His 40-plus years of public service has included serving on the Executive Board of the National Congress of American Indians, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, the Historical Society of Michigan, the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, the Michigan Climate Action Council, the Little Traverse Conservancy, the Michigan Travel Commission, the Public Interest Advisory Group for the International Joint Commission’s Upper Great Lakes Study, the Michigan Great Lakes Offshore Wind Council, the Great Lakes Water Quality Board, and the Michigan Water Use Advisory Council.
In his honoring speech, Frank gave credit to Tom Maulson, former Chairman of Lac du Flambeau Chippewa, for imparting the confidence to wear his ribbon shirt and beads when visiting members of Congress because it’s important that people remember who we are when they see us. He said that it also helps keep us aware that by our words and our deeds, we are representing our people. Frank recollected his relationship with Dale Kildee, former US Representative from Michigan and the positive impact that he had on Frank. The Representative always carried a pocket copy of the United States Constitution highlighting the important areas regarding Indian tribes. This inspired Frank to carry around a pocket copy of his Tribe’s Constitution, making those available to members of the US Congress when he visited with them.
Frank spoke about Representative Kildee’s work on the founding of the Congressional Native American Caucus which helped better organize the advocacy for Indian Country priorities. It became the largest informational caucus in the United States Congress. Frank also talked about the work of the Association on American Indian Affairs as an avid defender of tribal cultural resources for almost one hundred years. Frank concluded by giving honor and praise to his wife, as well as his children and their mother for the sacrifices they made and the support they gave so that he could walk the path the Creator had in store for him.
The Honorable Aaron Payment (Chairman of the Sault St. Marie Tribe; Vice President of Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes; First-Vice President of National Congress of American Indians; President of United Tribes of Michigan), recounted his first meeting with Frank as a happenstance cab ride. He credited Frank with teaching him how to stand in unity with other Indian tribes and to live his life in a way that strives for unity. “He is humbly setting new directions and changing paradigms…” said Payment.
During the honoring, Frank received several wonderful gifts symbolic of his leadership over the years. Jamie Edwards (Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe), gifted Frank with a beautiful Pendleton blanket. From the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe in North Carolina, Frank was gifted with a breathtaking piece in the form of a turtle adorned with Haliwa-Saponi symbols created by Senora Lynch (Haliwa-Saponi) Living Traditions Pottery. Entitled: “Bearing Gifts: Blackberry Winter.” the gift represents that Tribe’s story about the time of the year black bears come out from hibernation, and contains items indicative of the spiritual talents the Creator provides to people. Earl Evans (Haliwa-Saponi) serving as the master of ceremonies for the honoring, explained how the story depicted by the pottery, and each of these different spiritual talents, represent the way Frank has shared his spiritual talents with him and others in Indian County.
Ernie Stevens, Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, gifted Frank with an Eighth Generations blanket, and Stevens honored Frank’s wife Rochelle with a beaded necklace. He likened this to Frank teaching him that if it were not for the patience and love of his family, he would not be able to dedicate so much of himself to Indian Country. Stevens then warmly recounted attributes that make Frank such a profound leader, cultural steward, and protector of indigenous rights. “He can be a gentleman, he’s a statesman, but if something’s going wrong you don’t have to go far to hear it, he is a very, very powerful leader, he doesn’t have to be loud to make his point. If Indian Country is at risk he is on the front line, he is one of the greatest leaders of modern times….” said Stevens.
Honoring luncheon co-sponsors and champions in the cultural preservation field such as Gray & Pape Heritage Management and Red Cedar Solutions were present to support the recognition of Frank’s work. Co-sponsors Bold Concepts was also on hand for the auspicious occasion. “We are proud to have the opportunity to recognize Frank’s work,” said Gary Bailey, Director of Client Development at Bold Concepts.
Frank’s speech was a reminder that each of us is someone’s seventh (7th) generation. He instructed us about considering the consequences of our actions forward for seven generations. With that said, Frank simply stated that “we should all strive to be good ancestors.”
To continue honoring Frank’s legacy of cultural preservation, as well as help keep the modernization of cultural heritage protection at the forefront of the Indian Country agenda, a check was presented to the Association on American Indian Affairs to help inspire a new collaborative initiative to sustain that conversation. According to Gray & Pape’s President, Kevin Pape “We all want the same thing, responsible action. If we can bring everyone together to talk more frequently, we can bridge the communication gap about how we [tribes, industry & the public] work together to have better outcomes regarding the fate of America’s irreplaceable indigenous heritage. Frank is the kind of person that understands this and has achieved so many successes by communicating across sectors and interests.”
This new initiative appropriately dubbed “Can I Be Frank?” is intended to help the Association on American Indian Affairs fund its costs to host conversations, organize panels, and schedule individual presentations at intertribal meetings and conferences that present solutions and strategies for cultural heritage policy including but not limited to consultation with federal agencies, repatriation of tribal ancestors, protection of sacred places, revitalization of cultural traditions, and collaboration among industry and tribes.
This inaugural “Can I Be Frank?” contribution will be used to support cultural heritage issue presentations during the annual Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes Impact Week meeting. The sponsors hope it inspires other Indian tribes, intertribal organizations, and groups to make the same commitment at their venues. “We challenge every intertribal organization to match this commitment to sponsor and host “Can I Be Frank?” as a part of their regular policy agenda at intertribal meetings,” said Earl Evans (Haliwa-Saponi), Director of New Market Initiatives at Red Cedar Solutions. “Together, we can be the kind of ancestors the next seven generations are proud to have.”
In the words of Frank Ettawageshik: “Believe that you can do it, get out there and do the things that go after what you want, help other people, work for those coming generations and think about being a good ancestor.”