Billy Frank Jr. honored at Shelton memorial

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by ADAM MERTZ / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on May 11, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Updated Sunday, May 11 at 6:27 PM

SHELTON - Hundreds gathered to remember Native American leader and environmental advocate Billy Frank Jr., who died last week.

"He was a very strong and gracious leader," said Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians. "Billy had a lot of love, it didn't matter who you are or where you came from."

Family and friends shared memories of Frank at a memorial service Sunday in Shelton. Frank spent his life trying to protect salmon and their habitat.

"His leadership really helped everybody in the state because what he did is set up a framework where we could really save our salmon," said Governor Jay Inslee.

The governor, along with Senator Maria Cantwell and Senator Patty Murray, attended the service.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Frank fought for the right of Northwest tribes to fish in their traditional waters.

Frank was first arrested for salmon fishing as a boy in 1945 -- an event that led him on a long campaign for tribal rights. He and others were repeatedly arrested as they staged "fish ins" demanding the right to fish in their historical waters, as they were guaranteed in treaties when they ceded land to white settlers in the 19th century.

In 1974, U.S. District Judge George Boldt affirmed the tribes' right to half of the fish harvest -- and the nation's obligation to honor the old treaties.

"While he fought originally for making sure the rights to access salmon fishing he later fought for the preservation of the habitat," said Cantwell.

Frank was an environmental leader and activist for salmon recovery. He died at his home near Olympia. He was 83.

"He walked his life with an open hand and a closed fist; strong and peaceful," said Yanity.

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