The legacy of Billy Frank Jr. endures


Billy Frank Jr. was such a transcendent man in his lifetime that it’s no wonder his legacy is still growing two years after he passed away. Just in the last year, since we most recently wrote about Frank, here is what’s happened to honor the late environmental, tribal and civil rights leader:


  • President Obama honored Frank with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The president cited Frank’s devotion to protecting salmon habitat and tribal fishing rights. “He saved the salmon that had fed his family for generations,” 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.”
  • Congress voted to name the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, near Olympia, for Frank. The wildlife preserve, so close to where Frank grew up as a member of the Nisqually Tribe, is now called the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
  • The Nisqually Tribe named its new Community Services Center after Frank.
  • The Nisqually Tribe proclaimed March 9 as Billy Frank Jr. Day, in honor of Frank’s birthday.


The first Billy Frank Jr. Day was celebrated this week, as 400 invited guests came out to the Nisqually Indian Reservation to honor Frank’s life and legacy.

A new tradition…has begun, of tribes taking turns to host a gathering on Frank’s birthday, March 9, deemed Billy Frank Jr. Day to commemorate Frank’s legacy. This year in addition to the dinner hosted by Nisqually, and the service day, a service award was created in his honor.

A new school curriculum on tribal treaty fishing rights and salmon conservation also was unveiled, for free download and use by teachers anywhere. Karen Matsumoto, a science teacher at the Chief Kitsap Academy on the Suquamish Indian Reservation who helped design and develop the curriculum, said the lessons are intended to complement history and science classes from middle through high school.

…(Matsumoto said Frank) “was a bridge builder, that is what so impressed me, more than anything, the way he brought all kinds of people together.”

How fitting then that as Wednesday afternoon turned toward evening people began to arrive from all over, to feast on food donated by tribes from around Western Washington. Quinault brought the razor clams. Upper Skagit brought the Dungeness crab, butter clams, elk steaks and chinook. Chehalis gave sockeye, the Squaxins brought butter clams and oysters, and the Nisqually shared crab, too, and precious wild chum from their river.

As the steam rose from cooking pots and fires were set to roast fish traditionally on sticks, guests reflected on the meaning of carrying forward Frank’s memory. Farron McCloud, Nisqually tribal chairman, remembered the laugh that would seem to carry a mile, and Antonette Squally of the tribal council recalled the hugs he had for seemingly everyone.

“Now it is our turn to keep his legacy alive,” McCloud said. “That’s our goal: to keep working with Billy’s goals and objectives in mind.”

One of Frank’s sons, Willie Frank, said he hopes the celebration can expand in coming years.

(Willie Frank) wants to work toward getting Billy Frank Jr. Day recognized across the state, if not the country.

“Every kid should know what (my father) did, what he stood for and what he believed in,” (Willie) Frank said. “He didn’t do it just for the tribes. He did it for everybody.”