Even in death, Bernie Whitebear makes things happen.

The July 16 Discovery Park dedication transforming Illinois Avenue into Bernie Whitebear Way was a fitting tribute to the Native American leader.

Now Bernie Whitebear Way will lead visitors to Daybreak Star Cultural Center, which also serves as headquarters for the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, Whitebear’s hard-won legacy.

It’s easy, from this vantage point, to say the dedication has delivered a measure of poetic justice. Maybe a little too easy.

In 1970, when former Army Ranger Whitebear and his supporters scaled the cliffs of Fort Lawton to claim, or reclaim, the site in the name of his people, things were very different.

It was tempestuous time. The Viet Nam War informed the daily life of all Americans. Government and military nerves were raw. At Fort Lawton, Whitebear and his supporters faced military police in riot gear. There were real risks in those days for those who took a stand.

Whitebear and his supporters held firm, and won 20 acres and a 99-year lease after months of negotiations. He went on to become an iconic Native American leader who worked tirelessly for his people, all the while creating bridges between the Indian world and the white power establishment.

Even before he scaled the Magnolia cliffs, Whitebear had been an integral part of the landmark Seattle Indian Health Board.

“He had a Gandhi-like quality,” noted former Governor Gary Locke. Former Governor and U.S. Senator Dan Evans said of Whitebear: “I regard him as my personal hero.”

In the 1990s Whitebear unveiled plans for a People’s Lodge at Daybreak Star, which triggered considerable opposition in Magnolia and around Seattle: The project was too large, too out of scale for Discovery Park, critics said. Several public hearings, as well as some raucous, followed. There were those who supported Whitebear in 1970, and counted him a friend, who fought against him in the 1990s with considerable regret.

Bernie Whitebear had earned the respect of those who opposed him — perhaps the greatest tribute a human being can achieve.

Plenty of nice things were said about Bernie Whitebear at July 16 ceremony. “The government that Bernie Whitebear fought against…now honors him,” noted Mayor Mike McGinn at the time.

That’s how the system works.

The easy part is to honor him with a street name, but the reality shouldn’t be airbrushed: Bernie Whitebear always did the difficult thing when it mattered.