Editorial: Billy Frank Jr changed the fishing debate in Northwest

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

Washington newspaper highlights the contributions of the late Billy Frank Jr. to the fishing debate in the Pacific Northwest:
Billy Frank’s activism began four decades before the court decision that would validate tribal rights to salmon and other fish, which comprise a critical component of traditional Northwest Indian culture. Frank, who grew up in a Nisqually tribal fishing family near Olympia, was only 14 years old in 1945, when he was first arrested for salmon fishing. Frank’s activism would continue for almost seven decades — ceasing only with his death Monday at age 83.

While 19th-century treaties had granted tribes their “usual and accustomed” fishing grounds in return for ceding land, 20th-century state policy was not so accommodating. The state restricted fishing in response to development practices that sharply reduced fish runs, even as commercial and sport fishermen competed with tribes for the diminishing supplies.

Thus began a series of “fish-ins,” which led to Frank being arrested more than 50 times over the decades. The protests at times turned violent in clashes with state officials and with nontribal fishermen, and the conflicts drew national attention. Almost a decade before Marlon Brando refused to accept his Oscar because of Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans, the actor was arrested for joining a fishing protest on the Puyallup River in 1964.

Get the Story:
Editorial: Billy Frank changed fish debate, policy in Northwest (The Yakima Herald-Republic 5/7)

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