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Billy Frank Dies: Native American Activist Gave Tribes Fishing Rights

Image: Billy Frank Dies: Native American Activist Gave Tribes Fishing Rights

By Nick Sanchez   |   Tuesday, 06 May 2014 02:21 PM

Billy Frank Jr., the Native American activist who secured fishing rights for tribes through civil disobedience campaigns in the '60s and '70s, died Monday at the age of 83, Time magazine reported.

"Billy dedicated his life to protecting our traditional way of life and our salmon. For more than 60 years, Billy was in the center of action on behalf of the Nisqually people and of Native Americans throughout our country," read a statement from the Nisqually Indian Tribe on its website. "Along the way, Billy achieved national and international recognition as a towering figure protecting treaty rights, natural resources and the environment."

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Frank's activism was inspired by his arrest as a young boy. He was fishing on land ceded to white settlers in the 19th century that guaranteed fishing rights to the local tribes, and he argued this point with local game officials.

He would later stage "fish ins," demanding the right to fish there as guaranteed by the old treaties. Police brutality ensued, as droves of the demonstrators were handcuffed and arrested for trespassing.

The case ultimately went to court and U.S. District Judge George Boldt upheld the treaties, affirming the tribe's rights to fish on the lands described by the documents.

In subsequent years, Frank went on to advocate for salmon recovery and the environment.

President Obama commented on his passing Monday, releasing a statement: "Today, thanks to his courage and determined effort, our resources are better protected, and more tribes are able to enjoy the rights preserved for them more than a century ago."

Frank's death was confirmed by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

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