Optimism meets activism | Features
Frank Ettawageshik looks seven generations ahead
By Craig Manning | July 9, 2022
“I’ve made a career out of being a cautiously optimistic person.”
So says Frank Ettawageshik, a local indigenous leader with a long history of fighting for indigenous rights, environmental conservation and smart climate policy. From afar, these particular battles might not seem like the ones that would engender a spirit of optimism. And yet, despite the obstacles in his path, Ettawageshik has spent decades winning huge victories for Michigan natives, for the Great Lakes and for climate change advocacy.
Maybe his optimism is due to his success rate, or maybe winning the kinds of battles Ettawageshik has won simply requires the perseverance of an unwaveringly optimistic fighter. Either way, it’s hard to walk away from a conversation with Ettawageshik and not feel at least a little better about the state of the world. Turns out his optimism is contagious.
Who is Franck Ettawageshik?
For many northern Michigan residents, Ettawageshik’s greatest fame is his role as a longtime leader of the Odawa Bands of Little Traverse Bay (LTBB). Ettawageshik served two terms as tribal chairman – first from 1991 to 1999, then again from 2005 to 2009 – for a total of 14 years.
Today, Ettawageshik wears many hats, including that of president of the Association of American Indian Affairs; as executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan; as president of the Michigan Water Use Advisory Council; and as an appointee to the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration.
Ettawageshik has also been decorated in recent years as one of the state’s leading conservationists and native culture curators. In 2021, he was named the recipient of the Michigan Environmental Council’s annual Helen & William Milliken Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes “individuals who demonstrate exceptional leadership, enduring commitment, and extraordinary public service in the protection of natural resources at local, state and national levels. levels.”
In 2019, he received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. That same year, he was honored by the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, which established a new fund for cultural preservation – dubbed “Can I be frank? – to continue his mission.
The protector of water
Beyond any title or award, however, Ettawageshik is known and respected for the work he has done. As Tribal Chairman of the LTBB, he reaffirmed the Tribe’s sovereign status with the federal government, implemented many groundbreaking environmental policies (including climate change commitments and water consumption reduction targets). energy) and changed the financial fortunes of the tribal government, taking it from a budget of $4,000 in bank balance when he took office to an annual budget of $30 million when he left.
When asked to name the accomplishment of which he was most proud in his life, Ettawageshik mentioned the Great Lakes Water Agreement between Tribes and First Nations, a 2004 pact that was signed by all indigenous tribes and First Nations (the term used in Canada to describe sovereign indigenous nations) throughout the Great Lakes region. Among other things, the agreement requires that “any government effort to protect and preserve the waters of the Great Lakes Basin include the full participation of Tribes and First Nations.”
“States and provinces were negotiating on issues related to the bulk removal of groundwater and the diversion of water from the Great Lakes,” Ettawageshik recalled of the events leading up to the signing of the agreement. “They had been in negotiations for some time, and tribes and First Nations in various states and in Ontario had tried to ask, as tribal governments, to be part of this process. We felt that any mechanism to protect the Great Lakes in this regard would be flawed without tribal input. But they treated us like they would any stakeholder organization. We would get the draft [of the agreement], and we would have 30 days to comment on it, as would the general public. And then they treated our contribution as a contribution from the general public.
Above all, Ettawageshik says the tribes and First Nations just wanted a place at the table to decide the future of their birthright and their most precious resource: the waters of the Great Lakes. “We were deeply concerned that the document did not recognize treaty rights or the responsibilities of tribal governments.”
As a sort of last-ditch effort, Ettawageshik and his fellow tribal chiefs rushed to organize a meeting of affected tribes and First Nations. It was no small undertaking, involving considerable fundraising, communication across national borders and a six-week fleet schedule. But the hard work paid off, and eventually representatives from more than 180 Tribes and First Nations in the Great Lakes Basin came together to discuss and sign the Great Lakes Water Agreement between Tribes and First Nations. Nation.
The document, authored by Ettawageshik, has helped give indigenous peoples a voice in national and international discussions on water resource management. To this day, the Agreement and the political voice it has helped give Tribes and First Nations are a critical safeguard for the future of the Great Lakes, especially as climate change and water scarcity in other parts of the world are making lake water resources increasingly valuable.
A lifetime commitment
Since the agreement came into effect, Ettawageshik has continued to prove itself as a staunch defender of the Great Lakes. As a member of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC), he worked for years to obtain federal funds for the protection of the Great Lakes. The efforts of the GLRC eventually led to the creation of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a federal program that provides funds to help protect and restore the waters of the Great Lakes.
To date, the GLRI has committed some $3.5 billion in federal dollars to address water pollution, algal blooms, and more. Ettawageshik sits on the Great Lakes Advisory Board, a body within the GLRI — and one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal advisory committees — that advises the EPA administrator on how to direct federal funding for preservation of the Great Lakes.
In 2015, Ettawageshik’s years of advocacy took him to France, where he spoke on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This convention eventually led to the creation of the Paris Climate Accords, and Ettawageshik, along with hundreds of other Indigenous leaders, successfully advocated for the treaty to include multiple recognitions of Indigenous peoples’ rights and knowledge.
For the seventh generation
For Ettawageshik, all of this work – not to mention his unerring belief that the fight for the planet and for the rights of Indigenous peoples can indeed be won – goes back to an age-old Native American philosophy: the Seventh Generation Principal, who holds that generations of today should approach their choices and actions in such a way as to leave a sustainable world for their descendants seven generations from now.
“The only real way to move forward is to do things that will help people and help the planet,” Ettawageshik remarks. “I have children and grandchildren, and I work with a lot of children in other places, and the idea we’re trying to teach is that each of us is supposed to think about the consequences of our actions on a period long enough to encompass seven generations. This will be beyond the time when most people will even remember someone’s name.
“But if you think about it, each of us is someone’s seventh generation,” he continues. “What did those ancestors do to make us who we are today, doing the things we are and having the legal, mental and emotional tools we have? And how will one of the best things we can do, and the greatest achievement we can have, is to believe that one day we will be remembered as a good ancestor .