OLYMPIA, Wash. - Fifty years of activism, and Billy Frank Jr. is still
going strong; the Washington man has received the highest award from a
national conservation group. Frank is the Nisqually tribal elder who has
chaired the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 20
years. He's being honored by The Wilderness Society for
long-time service to conservation causes.
Starting in the 1960s, Frank became a well-known, and often jailed,
activist for demanding that the U.S. government honor the fishing rights
included in Native American treaties, rights eventually reaffirmed in a
federal court decision. He has also spent 40 years coordinating cleanup
and management of the Nisqually River watershed, and says big
improvements don't happen overnight.
"You've got to be very patient in making it happen, and we just opened
the dikes at the mouth of the Nisqually River. The estuary's wide open
now; it's all been diked up in the past with farmers. It's not an
overnight thing; it's a long-term thing."
In Frank's view, Washington's biggest challenge today is restoring wild
habitat, and learning to share it with its original 'residents.'
"The salmon and the animals have to have a home. Y'know, we pretty well
left them out. And the habitat, it needs so much help, but we can't give
up. We've got to stay the course and bring management back to the
natural resource world that we live in."
Frank says activism has changed a lot in the past five decades, and he
thinks the Internet is a good thing, allowing better communication. But
he adds that with an online audience it's also become easier to
criticize than to cooperate.
Billy Frank Jr. is the 25th person to receive the Robert Marshall Award,
so named for one of the founders of The Wilderness Society.