Published on January 6, 2013 by Amy
Billy Frank, Jr. is a Native American environmental leader and treaty rights activist born in 1931 to Willie and Angeline Frank. A Nisqually tribal member, Frank is known specifically for his grassroots campaign for fishing rights on the tribe’s Nisqually River, located in Washington state in the 1960s and 1970s. He is also known for promoting cooperative management of natural resources.
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Tribes reserved the right to fish, hunt and gather shellfish in treaties with the U.S. government negotiated in the mid-1850s. But when tribal members tried to exercise those rights off-reservation they were arrested for fishing in violation of state law.
Frank was arrested more than 50 times in the 1960s and 1970s because of his intense dedication to the treaty fishing rights cause. The tribal struggle was taken to the courts in U.S. v. Washington, and Judge George Boldt found in favor of the Indians in 1974. The Boldt Decision established the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington as co-managers of the salmon resource with the State of Washington and re-affirmed the tribal right to half of the harvestable salmon returning to western Washington.
Today Frank is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, a position he has held for more than 30 years.
The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) was created in 1975 to support the natural resource management activities of the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. The NWIFC is based in Olympia, Washington, with satellite offices in Forks and Mount Vernon. Frank has chaired the NWIFC since 1981. The commission’s 65-person staff supports member tribes in efforts ranging from fish health to salmon management planning and habitat protection. The NWIFC also acts as a forum for tribes to address issues of mutual concern, and as a mechanism for tribes to speak with a unified voice in Washington, D.C.