Opinion: Billy Frank Jr. was a Nelson Mandela for the Northwest

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

Writer praises legacy of treaty rights and water advocate Billy Frank Jr.:
With the passing of Billy Frank we have lost a figure that represents the spirit of Nelson Mandela in the Pacific Northwest. Billy asserted the tribal treaty rights to harvest salmon before such rights were recognized by the Courts. He suffered greatly for the assertion of those rights. He was arrested over 50 times in their defense until finally he was vindicated by the Federal Courts. His struggle vindicated his assertion of the collective rights and responsibilities of all signatories to the 19th century treaties and made clear to all of us how shabbily he had been treated.

In addition to Billy’s tribe there were farmers, small landowners, small towns, Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, the U.S. Park Service, the Army at Fort Lewis and Air Force at McChord Air Base and a myriad of other interests. Billy played a central role in developing a collaborative attitude that allowed all to finally work together.

Billy, like Mandela, could have been angry and bitter over his experience and refused to cooperate with those who made him suffer for what was rightfully his. Like Mandela, Billy refused to do that. Intead, he helped to create the Nisqually River Council in the watershed where he and his fellow tribal members live. Through the council he helped pull all of the interests in the Nisqually together and they adopted a plan for the river’s restoration. This set all the people who lived there on a path for recovery that makes the Nisqually a model for how to solve western water problems.

Get the Story:
William Ruckelshaus: Billy Frank Jr. was the Northwest's Nelson Mandela (Crosscut 5/8)

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