“I don’t believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That’s what I believe in.”
From Where the Salmon Run:
Billy Frank Jr. took his first breath on March 9, 1931, six days after President Herbert Hoover signed “The Star-Spangled Banner” into law as the national anthem. One day, Billy would defend his country; then he’d spend a lifetime challenging the nation to rise to its ideals.
One day in the winter of 1945, as the temperature hovered in the mid-forties, Billy Frank Jr. became a fighter. Along the Nisqually River, Billy pulled thrashing and squirming steelhead and dog salmon from his fifty-foot net. To avoid the keen eyes of game wardens, he’d set his net in the river the night before. The downed branches of a fallen maple covered his canoe perfectly. But in the stillness of those early-morning hours, as he diligently butchered the chum, a yell pierced the silence. For Billy, life would never be the same.
“You’re under arrest!” state agents shouted with flashlights in hand.
“Leave me alone, goddamn it. I fish here. I live here!” Billy fired back.
Read an extended collection of remembrances of the life of Billy Frank Jr. in the weeks after his death.
Billy Frank Jr. at the dedication of the NWIFC’s fish health lab:
Martha Kongsgaard, Chair, Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council:
Billy was a long-term optimistic thinker and strategist. He was the personification of what it means to be courageous. Not brave. Bravery is temporary; it’s a rising to an occasion not necessarily of one’s making. It is a kind of daring, but not enduring. Courage, on the other hand, is a disposition, a quality of character. It endures. Central to the word courage is of course “coeur,” meaning heart. Heart was Billy’s defining feature. He knew no stranger, was alien to no injustice.
Billy Frank Jr. talking to then candidate Bill Clinton in 1992:
From “America Has Lost a Giant” by Jeff Shaw:
Up until his last days, Billy was working to make sure that his kids, and yours, and theirs, and theirs — and however many “theirs” you want to attach on the end — would have a healthy planet that would support wild salmon. He was working to protect the sacred commitments that in turn protect the communities he loved.
If you care about the U.S. Constitution, you should care about Billy Frank. If you’re concerned with honoring oaths and the dignity of keeping your word, you should be glad he lived. If you fight for social justice in any capacity, you had a fellow traveler. If you’re concerned about the fate of the planet we’re leaving to our children, you owe him a debt.
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell:
Billy Frank stood as a guiding light for Native people to stand up for their rights in a non-violent way. His bravery and leadership led to the breakthrough Boldt Decision, which forever changed the landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
Today, because of the Boldt Decision, the state and Tribes are partners in the management and preservation of resources that are foundational to the economy of the state.
Until the very end, Billy continued to fight for Tribes’ Treaty rights, including fighting for a healthy environment that can sustain salmon and other resources for the next generations.
Paul Lumley, Chairman, Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission:
Indian Country has suffered a monumental loss in the passing of Billy Frank, Jr. His impacts knew no boundaries and were often felt from the streams of the Pacific Northwest to the halls of Washington D.C. Billy was a living icon.
The Seattle Times
David Troutt, Director, Nisqually Tribe Natural Resources
He was the most gracious and forgiving person I’ve ever known. He was my mentor for 30 years, and it was from him that I learned to be respectful of all people. Those warm embraces of his were genuine, and they could make all the difference in the world.
Cynthia Iyall, Chair, Nisqually Tribe
Billy inspired, pestered and chastised politicians and agencies to be accountable. He fought for what was right, and he persuaded others to do the same through his charisma and force of personality. He also knew when it was time to stop fighting and find common ground. This wisdom led to landmark agreements, major salmon recovery investments and securing of our tribal rights.
But his fight was far greater than tribal sovereignty. He was an advocate for our planet’s interests. Billy understood that when salmon and shellfish are plentiful, everyone benefits. Clean water, air and earth are vital for everyone. We all depend on the planet. This was his life lesson.
Phil Anderson, Director, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Billy Frank Jr. was one of the greatest men I have ever known. He was a no-nonsense and straightforward communicator while at the same time warm and caring of other human beings. I looked forward to the embrace I got every time we met and was honored to have known him for so many years.