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Native Fishing Rights Activist Billy Frank Jr. Dies in Washington at 83

Billy Frank Jr. passed away at 83 on May, 5, 2014.

Frank, former head of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and voice for Native American fishing rights across the country.

A memorial piece in the New York Times told the story of 14-year old Frank who got arrested for fishing, the first of around 50 total arrests.

Frank was part of the Nisqually tribe, which had fished for many generations in the waters of Mount Rainier in Washington. That first arrest was the beginning of Frank’s role in the “fish wars,” a civil rights movement during the 1960s and ’70s in the Pacific Northwest.

To him, he was honoring treaties written in the mid-1800s which distinguished the more than two million acres of land given up by Native Americans as even trade for the right to fish in their traditional waters, using methods they saw fit.

Salmon and other game fish began to decline in number, and many Native American anglers seemed to be taking the fall for over-fishing from commercial entities. Frank and his peers were often singled out for fishing out of season, without a license or in unapproved areas.

Even to this day, Native American fishing rights are a debated issue in the midst of disappearing habitat and invasive species.

No official cause for Mr. Frank’s death was given. He had three sons, James, Tanu and Willie.


Featured image via Ann Yow/Seattle Times

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Native Fishing Rights Activist Billy Frank Jr. Dies in Washington at 83