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The Rise of Tribes and the Fall of Federal Indian Law
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Opinion: Billy Frank's fight for treaty rights was about civil rights

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: billy frank, treaties, washington
     


Billy Frank Jr., 1931-2014. Photo from Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Writer pays tribute to the late treaty rights advocate Billy Frank Jr.:
Many of us who came of age in Seattle during the late 1970s remember the name Billy Frank and the phrase, “The Boldt Decision,” as much as Watergate or Viet Nam. Mr. Frank and U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt brought forth a new way of looking at natural resources in our region. Yet, it was not just about fish. It was also about civil rights. The cultural and ethnic survival of the Pacific Northwest Indian tribes depended their ancient right to fish for salmon. If the salmon went away so would the people.

It all started in 1945 after so much had already been taken from the tribes.

Frank, a member of the Nisqually Indian tribe, was arrested for fishing outside his home on property his family had held for generations. Fishing for salmon was regulated by a state agency. FRank did not have a permit. Through dozens of arrests, protests and the court battles that followed, the often imperfect but passionate leader taught the rest of us the notion — long held by indigenous peoples — that the health of the environment is intertwined with the health of people.

The salmon sustain the tribes, both in flesh and spirit. The Boldt decision ensured that the Indian tribes of this region would be guaranteed the right to fish — and that those fish would be protected and nurtured for the benefit of the tribes. Long damaged by dams and development, rebuilding fish stocks required that rivers, streams and the ecosystems that nurture them must also be protected

Get the Story:
Mary L. Grady: Billy Frank (The Mercer Island Reporter 5/13)

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