Billy Frank Jr.,
1931-2014. Photo from Northwest Indian
Tribal, federal and state officials across the country are mourning the passing of treaty rights advocate Billy Frank
Frank, who was a member of the Nisqually Tribe of Washington, died on Monday at the age of 83. He was recognized worldwide as an expert on treaties, fishing and the environment.
"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,'" President Barack Obama said in a
statement. "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."
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who hails from Frank's home state, hailed the long-serving chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission as a visionary. She recently attended a tribal summit in Washington where Frank spoke.
"Two weeks ago, the entire room fell silent at a tribal summit held at the Suquamish reservation in Washington to listen as Billy spoke forcefully and passionately about the need to tackle the growing threat of climate change," Jewell said in a statement. "Billy shared a great sense of urgency that we come together as one people to work toward practical solutions to address its impacts."
Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, called Frank an "elder statesman for tribal treaty fishing rights." Frank had been arrested more than 50 times -- the first at the age of 14 -- for exercising his right to fish in the usual and accustomed places in the Northwest.
“His wisdom on the importance of conservation and the protection of natural resources has been recognized by all who love the great outdoors," Washburn said in a statement "Thanks to his leadership and years of hard work, we can continue to appreciate the great gifts of nature that are still with us and the tribes of the Pacific Northwest can still rely on the salmon to sustain them for generations to come."
Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said Frank was an "historic and heroic leader of his generation." She said his work changed the way the EPA works with tribes across the nation.
"Through his tireless efforts, as a passionate voice for the protection of our air, water, and land, EPA’s own tribal efforts were strongly influenced in the early 1990’s as we created an office to more directly address tribal issues across the country," McCarthy said in a statement. "We will, in that spirit, continue working to strengthen our government-to-government relationship and partnership with tribal citizens.
National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby said Indian Country owes a large debt to Frank.
Cladoosby serves as chairman of the Swinomish Tribe in Washington, whose rights were affirmed by the historic Boldt
decision that arose out of Frank's activism.
“Indian Country has lost one of the greatest leaders who fought to protect salmon, water, and quality of life for our people. The loss of a Billy as our teacher, mentor, and elder is immeasurable," Cladoosby said in a press release "Our very way of life is only possible because of the battles Billy fought – without his personal sacrifices, tribes in the Northwest would look very different. My own life would be very different if I had not had been blessed by Billy’s teachings, example, and love. My prayers go out to his family and the many, many others whose lives he touched.”
As an advocate for responsible fisheries management, Franks served as chair of the NWIFC for 30 years. The organization said an announcement about services was pending.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of our great leader and good friend, Billy Frank Jr.," NWIFC Vice Chair Lorraine Loomis said in a statement. “He was a champion for treaty rights, the salmon and a better quality of life for all of us who live here."
Tribal leaders from other parts of the country also said Frank was an inspiration.
Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker said the late leader was a "champion" for all indigenous people.
"He was a beloved leader, warrior and advocate for tribal sovereignty," Baker said in a statement. "He fought tirelessly for fishing rights that were guaranteed to Native people through treaties negotiated with the federal government. He was ahead of his time in his commitment to natural resource preservation."
Tex Hall, the chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, recently testified at a hearing in Washington, D.C., alongside Frank. He said Frank always stayed true to his passion.
“Billy never changed – he was always a fighter for the Northwest Tribes, the Salmon which he loved, and the treaties," Hall said in a statement. "Last month, I testified with him at the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and he was still fighting to get full funding for the salmon. He will always be a legend. He was a warrior and his legacy lives on in the lifeblood of the people, the fish, and the waters we depend upon.”
Tributes also poured in from members of Congress, including Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the former chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. She said Frank was simply a "legend."
"Billy Frank stood as a guiding light for Native people to stand up for their rights in a non-violent way. His bravery and leadership led to the breakthrough Boldt Decision, which forever changed the landscape of the Pacific Northwest," Cantwell said in a statement. "Today, because of the Boldt Decision, the state and Tribes are partners in the management and preservation of resources that are foundational to the economy of the state."
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) said Franks touched the lives of everyone in the state. "When it came to representing his community and fighting to make a difference, no one worked harder than Billy," she said in a statement "No one could ever replace his incredible joy for life and his unyielding belief in simply doing the right thing."
Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Washington) said America lost a civil rights icon. He hosted the summit where Frank spoke.
“When Billy spoke you listened," Kilmer said in a statement. "We saw that firsthand just last week when he commanded a room that included tribal leaders, federal officials, and the Secretary of the Interior."
Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Washington) called Franks a "selfless leader." He recently signed a bill into law that expunged the convictions of most tribal fishing activists.
"Billy was a champion of tribal rights, of the salmon, and the environment," Inslee said in a statement "He did that even when it meant putting himself in physical danger or facing jail."
"Billy was widely recognized as a great leader and he took on that role with grace and honor. The mere presence of him changed the atmosphere in the room, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Firector Director Phil Anderson added in a statement. "No one ever questioned his role as a leader. No one ever questioned his passion for natural resources. And no one ever questioned his commitment to Indian people."
“Billy was a true statesman who brought an optimistic, can-do approach to environmental and natural resource challenges,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “His activism and perseverance helped build the foundation of an enduring legacy that Washington state will never forget.”
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