Billy Frank, Jr.
Billy Frank. Jr. (1931-2014) of the Nisqually Indian Tribe served as chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) for more than 30 years. In this capacity, he "spoke for the salmon" on behalf of 20 treaty tribes in western Washington. Under his leadership, tribes successfully reasserted their traditional role as natural resource managers and secured other rights protected by treaties with the United States government.
In the 1960's and early 70's, Frank was a grassroots political activist who was frequently jailed for his role in civil disobedience, which involved taking part in numerous "fish-in's" in opposition to state authority over the tribes. Years of resistance finally paid off when federal court ruled in favor of the tribes in U.S. v. Washington, known as the "Boldt Decision" of 1974. The ruling, supported by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979, reaffirmed the treaty-protected fishing rights of the tribes. Among other things, the ruling stated that the tribes have a right to catch up to 50 percent of the harvestable resource, and that the state and the tribes must manage the resource as co-managers.
NWIFC was formed in 1975 to support tribal fisheries management activities and to enable the tribes to speak with a united voice. In addition to helping the tribes develop cooperative fisheries plans, the NWIFC board of commissioners and the commission staff help coordinate such programs as enhancement and habitat management. This example of state-tribal cooperation has had its challenges, but it has been fundamentally successful and has inspired similar efforts in other parts of the U.S. and the world. With Frank's leadership, the NWIFC and the tribes it serves are working to protect and restore the salmon resource for Indians and non-Indians alike.
Frank was celebrated regionally, nationally and internationally as an outstanding Native American leader and was the recipient of numerous recognition awards, including the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and the Indian Country Today Inaugural American Visionary Award. (Source: The Institute for Tribal Government)