The Best of Billy Frank Jr.

Revered Indigenous Environmental Leader

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Open Biography

Legacy of Change

Billy Frank Jr. (1931-2014) was a highly honored activist and leader and helped bring fundamental change to treaty rights for indigenous people in Washington State.

Billy Frank was arrested over 50 times throughout his life, starting at the age of 14. Although the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek guaranteed the rights of indigenous peoples to fish in their usual and accustomed territories, by the mid 20th century Billy Frank and many others were arrested and harassed for this practice.

Through a groundbreaking 1974 court decision brought on by the struggle over fishing rights and aided by the testimony of Billy Frank and others, treaties were determined to have precedent over state laws. Indigenous people could legally manage the resources they had been caring for since time immemorial. 

Out of this decision, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC), lead by Billy Frank, and Washington State found common ground over the co-management of salmon, and the restoration and protection of habitat.

Billy Frank Jr. chaired NWIFC for 30 years, and laid a pathway of conservation and collaboration that continues to guide and inspire change-makers.

He has received dozens of awards and recognitions for his work for the environment and indigenous rights, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded posthumously in 2015.