In Memory Of Billy Frank Jr

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From VikkiT:

“Local papers are doing big spreads on Billy Frank, Jr, a tribal fishing activist who was a real mover and shaker in the area…”

FROM billyfrankjr.org – Extended Collection Of Remembrances: PDF HERE

Billy Frank, Jr. (March 9, 1931 – May 5, 2014) was a Native American environmental leader and treaty rights activist. A Nisqually Tribal Member, Frank is known specifically for his grassroots campaign for tribal fishing rights on the Nisqually River in the 1960s and 1970s. Tribes reserved the right to fish, hunt and gather shellfish in treaties with the U.S. government negotiated in the mid-1850s. But when tribal members tried to exercise those rights, they were arrested for fishing in violation of Washington state law.

Frank Was Arrested More Than 50 Times In The Fish Wars
Of The 1960s And 1970s Because Of His Intense Dedication
To The Treaty Fishing Rights Cause

History: In 1855, two years after Washington was split from the Oregon Territory, the government of Washington signed various treaties with local tribes to compel natives to move onto reservations. Under the Point No Point Treaty, tribes on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas gave up most of their land, but retained rights to their traditional fishing areas. Some tribes resisted the loss of their farmland, leading to a series of armed skirmishes known as the Puget Sound War. By the end of the conflict, and for the next several decades, most of the treaties were largely forgotten or routinely ignored.

In 1916, the City of Tacoma donated 60,000 acres of land to the United States Army to build Fort Lewis. Two-thirds of the land came from the Nisqually reservation, including several miles of the Nisqually River. To preserve some of his traditional fishing areas, one of the residents of the reservation, Willy Frank, bought back a six-acre plot on the Nisqually River from Winthrop Humphrey Bennett for $50 and moved his family to what would eventually be known as “Frank’s Landing”.

In His Own Words: The Memories Of Billy’s Father, Willie Frank Sr.

Three years before he died, the last full-blooded Nisqually Indian, Willie Frank Sr., recalls the dramatic history of his people and his life along the Nisqually River with the mysterious salmon.

The stories of Willie Frank inspired his son, Billy, to devote his life to the fish.

In 1937, a federal court granted a petition to prevent the state of Washington from interfering with native fishing rights, but there was no enforcement of the decision. Local authorities continued to police the water and issue citations and arrests.

In 1945, Willy Frank’s 14-year-old son, Billy Frank, Jr., was arrested for fishing with a net. This would prove to be the first of many confrontations between the younger Frank and state authorities.

Demonstrations: By the 1960s, “Frank’s Landing”, previously owned by Winthrop Humphrey Bennett as a ferry crossing under the name “Bennett’s Landing”, now owned by Billy Frank, Jr., had become a haven for unlicensed “fish-ins”. Fishermen would return to their fishing ground time and again, allowing themselves to be re-arrested for asserting their treaty rights.

By 1964, the dispute over fishing rights began to receive national media attention. Several celebrities took up the cause, including Marlon Brando, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Dick Gregory. Brando was arrested on March 2, 1964 for taking two steelhead trout as part of a protest with the Puyallup tribe.

“We ceded all this land to the United States for a contract to protect our salmon, our way of life, our culture,” Frank told the Associated Press during an interview in 2012.

“We’re gatherers and we’re harvesters. And they forgot about us. They built their cities, they built their university. They built everything, and they forgot about us tribes.”

Frank’s resistance to state-imposed limits on fishing led to a historic civil rights struggle, known as the The Fish Wars, by the dozens of Northwest tribes who demanded that the treaties their ancestors first signed with white settlers be honored and their way of life persevered.

A. Paul Ortega’s Song ‘Four-Ways‘ from his ‘Two Worlds Three Worlds‘ Album covers silent video of a Nov. 1965 Fish-In on the Nisqually River at Franks Landing in the aftermath of a violent State Police Fish & Game Wardens attack on October 13, 1965.

In June 1970, almost 5 years later, Franks Landing was ruled outside the criminal jurisdiction of the State of Washington.

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From VikkiT:

“Seeing this coverage reminded me of our time working with the tribe, Avaton helped them with their first smoke shops and we did what we could to support the civil disobedience necessary for their cause.

It was the height of the tensions between the government and the rights they’d promised by treaty but denied in practice. It was very intense, real physical threats were flying. The general social situation was upheaval, insecurity; the future of the tribe and winning this fishing rights question looked bleak.”

“Revolution was in the air, protests against the Vietnam war were escalating… incredibly intense times — everyone literally feared physical assaults or worse…

It took great courage to face down armed government forces, truly ground breaking precidents…

An ‘Us Against Them’ Mind Set in place for us and everyone we associated with…”

Finally, the U.S. Federal Government Intervened,
Suing The State Of Washington For Failure
To Uphold Its Treaty Agreement

From VikkiT:

“I recall in particular, one night in 1974, Billy and some other tribal elders came up to CAC HQ to get a tarot reading from me in regard to their big fishing rights case that was coming up. When they gathered around the pool table, it felt like a war council — I felt honored to be asked to participate and very pleased to be able to contribute to the effort.”

Cartoon by Milt Preggee

“They really didn’t want to get Judge Boldt because his track record up till then had not been favorable to the tribe. I remember having to tell them the ‘bad’ news, that they were, indeed, going to get Judge Boldt, but that everything would work out OK. At the time, none of us could see how, but there it was.

Well, as history now is known, The Boldt Decision was a game changer, and being part of that piece of history was an honor.”

Strongbow works with local tribes as well on their projects.”

“Medicine Woman” (left) | “Northwest Coastal People” (right) – Jon Strongbow

“His artwork delves deeply into tribal images. So it’s kind of an ongoing connection.”

In The Boldt Decision, the court held that, when the tribes conveyed millions of acres of land in Washington State through a series of treaties signed in 1854 and 1855, they reserved the right to continue fishing. For example, the Treaty of Medicine Creek (1854) mentions that “the right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory”.

Most important in The Boldt Decision was that tribes were acknowledged to have the right to ONE HALF of the harvestable fish.

The court looked at the minutes of the treaty negotiations to interpret the meaning of the treaty language “in common with” as the United States described it to the Tribes, holding that the United States intended for there to be AN EQUAL SHARING of the fish resource between the Tribes and the settlers.

As the court stated, the phrase means “sharing equally the opportunity to take fish…therefore, nontreaty fishermen shall have the opportunity to take up to 50% of the harvestable number of fish…and treaty right fishermen shall have the opportunity to take up to the same percentage”.

A Later U.S. Supreme Court Decision
Would Uphold The Boldt Decision In Its Entirety

C-SPAN Cities Tour – Olympia
The Boldt Decision and Native American Fishing Rights
Published on Feb 1, 2014

Hear former Washington State Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander explain the origins of the treaty and the events leading to the The Boldt Decision, and Nisqually tribal member and activist Billy Frank, Jr. share his thoughts on what many call the landmark civil rights issue of the Pacific Northwest.

The Boldt decision was a grand slam home run for Billy Frank and Washington’s fishing treaty tribes, but there was now an immense amount of work to do.

At first, non-native fishermen refused to obey the District Court’s occasional bans on non-Treaty fishing and the Washington Department of Fisheries refused to enforce them. Outlaw fisheries proliferated, resulting in scores of enforcement orders from Judge Boldt, who was reviled, hung in effigy, and the subject of angry bumper stickers throughout Western Washington. During this time, hundreds of tons of salmon were illegally harvested by non-natives in and around Puget Sound — so much so that in 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a follow-on decision, likened the state’s resistance to The Boldt Decision to the South’s unyielding response to desegregation.

In 1981, Billy was named chair of the Northwest Indian Fishing Commission, a position he held until his death. Billy’s open personality and willingness to work with all parties, and most importantly the universal trust that all member tribes had in him, allowed him to lead the effort to fulfill one of the goals of The Boldt Decision, that tribes assume their rightful role as co-managers of salmon and other natural resources.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) is a support service organization for 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. Its role is to assist member tribes in their role as natural resources co-managers. The commission provides direct services to tribes in areas such as biometrics, fish health and salmon management to achieve an economy of scale that makes more efficient use of limited federal funding. The NWIFC also provides a forum for tribes to address shared natural resources management issues and enables them to speak with a unified voice in Washington, D.C.

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Please Note: Some or all of the links posted on this page are 'affiliate links'. If you click on an 'affiliate link' and make a purchase, CAC will receive an affiliate commission. Please know we only recommend products that we believe will be of value to our members, subscribers and web visitors. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: 'Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.'

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