We lost a hero yesterday. Billy Frank, Jr lived a good long 83 years and spent every day fighting the good fight. He was an advocate for the rights of nature, the health of rivers and salmon and, naturally, the interconnected rights of native people.
He didn’t mince words or actions. He was dragged out of canoes by his hair and arrested dozens and dozens of times for expressing his treaty rights to fish for food and sustenance.
He was honored with Ecotrust’s Indigenous Leadership Award in 2003, one of more than fifty Native leaders that we have recognized over the years, from Alaska to California. But in his case, the all-Native jury suggested that a $25,000 award was inadequate to his accomplishments. So we named the conference room at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center after him. Billy Frank, Jr is emblazoned on the front door of the conference center and welcomes over 500 events annually—everything from business planning retreats to weddings.
Arthur Dye, former Ecotrust vice president and the key catalyst in creating the Indigenous Leadership Award, remembers:
I first met Billy Frank, Jr. in 1970 when the Frank family sent out a call for people to help shore up the bank of their six acre allotment on the lower Nisqually River. Half an acre or more washed away before the forty or fifty people that showed up were able to pile enough logs and other debris onto the bank to stop the erosion. Whenever I get discouraged about the status of salmon, I think of that night.
Billy’s message was that Native people must be part of the solution in sustaining salmon runs. Not many people agreed with Billy in 1970. With persistence, charm, and good will he shared his message with tribes, government agencies, and with people who care about salmon. The heartfelt response to Billy’s passing shows that this message has been heard. It is his gift to the region and to us.
Billy Frank Jr’s name honors all who come to Ecotrust searching for ways to improve the social, environmental, and economic well-being of the place he called home.