Billy Frank Jr., a tireless advocate for tribes, treaties and the future of Indian people, will be in the second class of modern tribal heroes to be inducted into the Native American Hall of Fame on Nov. 2.Frank, who was arrested more than 50 times for fishing in traditional waters in protest of the state of Washington’s suppression of tribal treaty rights, is remembered both for his early in-your-face activism and his long, remarkable career as a statesman.
Born March 9, 1931, Frank passed May 5, 2014 as he was preparing to testify at yet another hearing. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest national civilian award, by President Barack Obama.
“For this next generation, there is no option. A lifetime, memorialized by a single man – Billy Frank – has shown us that the question before us is not whether we continue the fight. Rather the question is who; who will continue this fight?” said Cecilia Gobin, a Tulalip tribal member and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Conservation Policy Analyst, following his death. “The experience of our ancestors and relations that have walked this road before us demonstrates that if we as Indian people want our way of life to continue, we have to pick up the responsibilities that have now been left before us.”
His legacy carries on in countless Indian and non-Indian classrooms, courtrooms and in the halls of state and federal lawmakers. Hundreds of river miles have been restored for fish. A curriculum has been created and given to Washington schools about the Fish Wars and the life of Billy Frank Jr. Pictures of Frank and his quotes hang in lawmakers’ offices. But those who know him best would say that Billy wouldn’t care about the accolades. He would ask us all to do more.
“I have often said no one cared more for Planet Earth and the salmon here more than Billy Frank,” said Norm Dicks, former U.S. Representative. “Now what can we do? We can honor Billy by finishing his work – protecting wild salmon. What would Billy want us to do? He would want us to respect the science, he’d want us to uphold the Boldt decision and the treaty rights, support the NWIFC and he would want us to tackle the problem of our time: climate change and ocean acidification.”
President Fawn Sharp of Quinault Indian Nation said she saw Billy as “a historic visionary – he had this ability to go back to treaty time and had an incredible understanding of what those words meant, so much to that point so that I wondered if he was there 150 years ago,” she said. “But at the same time this one individual could see seven generations into the future. As a visionary, he understood the many challenges facing humanity, facing our generation. It was his understanding of how all things are connected.”
Frank will be inducted at the ceremony at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. More information about the Native American Hall of Fame can be found at www.nativehalloffame.org