Billy Frank Jr.
Native American Activist
Billy Frank Jr. spent his life fighting to preserve the sovereignty of Native American Tribes and defending the right of Native Americans to live according to their heritage and ancestry. A member of the Nisqually tribe, Frank was 14 when Washington State officers began confiscating fishing gear and arresting tribal members for fishing in the Nisqually River, among them a young Billy Frank. Thus began Frank’sjourney towards ensuring justice and creating opportunities for Native Americans.
As a young man active in the fish wars of the 1960s and 1970s, through his chairmanship of the NW Indian Fisheries Commission from the early 1980s, until his death at age 83, Billy Frank opened opportunities for Native American families to fish and for tribes to manage fisheries. Over the course of his career, Frank was arrested more than 50 times, not for acts of belligerence or destruction, but for his staunch belief that preserving the truths and traditions of the past is important for the good of the future. He was instrumental in the 1974 “BoldtDecision” (U.S. v Washington) that said Indians would have a share “in common with” the salmon catches made by non-Indians. The new ruling opened the door to immense opportunities for Native American-owned and operated businesses.
Frank understood the centrality that salmon play in the culture, traditions, lives, and economies of Native peoples in the northwest. His work led directly to the growth of business opportunities for Native families and for tribes across the U.S. From family-owned fishing businesses to tribally owned hatcheries and fish processing plants, thousands of jobs for Native and non-Native people have been created.
On hearing of his passing, President Obama said, “Billy fought for treaty rights to fish the waters of the Pacific Northwest, a battle he finally won in 1974 after being arrested many times during tribal “fish-ins.”. Today, thanks to his courage and determined effort, our resources are better protected, and more tribes are able to enjoy the rights preserved for them more than a century ago.”