Billy Frank Jr. grew up on the Nisqually river in Western Washington, becoming an expert fisherman at a young age, knowing every current of the river, and every creature that made its home in the delta.
The Medicine Creek Treaty had guaranteed Washington tribes the right to fish in their "usual and accustomed places back in 1854. But in 1945. When Billy was just fourteen, state fish and game wardens arrested him for "illegal fishing".
When he returned, things hadn't changed. His boats and nets were confiscated, he lived like an outlaw, fishing at night, always on the lookout for men in uniforms.
He was "chased and tear-gassed, tackled, punched, pushed face-first into the mud, handcuffed and dragged soaking wet to the country jail."
There would be protests at the state Capitol, a full-scale riot on the banks of the Puyallup River in 1970, myriad lawsuits and finally a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1979 before the so-called fish wars in Washington were resolved.
Following that victory, Billy Frank Jr. led conservation efforts to restore and protect Puget Sound, worked to unite local tribes and became a national voice for Indian Country.
“He saved the salmon that had fed his family for generations,” President Obama said. “He was spat on, shot at, chased, clubbed and cast as an outlaw, but Billy kept fighting because he knew he was right.”
This is a man of courage and many other laudable qualities who was instrumental in creating more justice for Native tribes. His story should be a book for kids, written by a Native American. Maybe I could be a mentor, helping with writing and knowledge of the publishing business?
A new school curriculum on tribal treaty fishing rights and salmon conservation has been developed for free download and use by teachers.
The lessons are intended to supplement history and science classes, middle through high school and include videos and historical photos.