The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission announced the death this morning of its founder and chairman Billy Frank Jr., an iconic champion of tribal fishing rights and a leading advocate for salmon and the environment.
The commission was closed for the day, and the news of Frank’s death at 83 has resonated throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“Billy Frank Jr. was an inspirational leader in the Puget Sound region and nationwide for over 70 years,” said Puget Sound Institute Director Joel Baker. “Much of what we do here began with Billy’s determination and bravery in the face of incredible obstacles. His commitment to his people, to Coast Salish tribes and First Nations, and to his beloved salmon will never be forgotten.”
Frank was one of the leaders of what were termed the “Fish Wars” of the 1960s and 1970s to retain the rights of tribes to fish historical waters. He held “fish-ins” and was arrested more than 50 times for civil disobedience in protest of government restrictions later overturned by the Boldt decision. In 1974 U.S. District Court Judge George H. Boldt ruled in favor of the Treaty Tribes, allowing them to co-manage and retain 50% of the salmon harvest in Washington. Those rights were later extended to include shellfish.
Frank helped found the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission following the Boldt decision and served as its chairman for close to 40 years. He was also a member of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council and a nationally recognized voice for environmental conservation. He received the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1992.
President Obama issued a statement today, saying that due to Frank’s “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.”
Where the Salmon Run: The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank Jr.
History Link profile.
The Boldt decision and the establishment of the Northwest indian Fisheries Commission.