The late Billy Frank, Jr., is one of two Northwest heroes of conservation recognized by President Barak Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented to honorees, also including Seattle’s William Ruckelshaus, at the White House on November 24th.
Billy Frank, Jr., of the Nisqually Indian Tribe, who died in May of 2014, has been “speaking for the salmon” for more than 60 years. He cherished life on the Nisqually River, fought for tribal treaty rights, including the right to fish, and chaired the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 20 years. In this capacity, he "spoke for the salmon" on behalf of 19 Treaty Indian Tribes in western Washington.
His early activism paved the way for the “Boldt decision,” which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington. Frank led effective “fish-ins,” which were modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, during the tribal “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad. Frank was the recipient of many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement.
Under his leadership, the tribal role over the past 30 years has evolved from that of activists fighting the state to secure fishing rights reserved in treaties with the United States government, to managers of the resource focused on restoring the salmon abundance for future generations.