Peninsula Daily News, McClatchy News Service and The Associated Press
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He was 83.
Frank died in his Olympia-area home early Monday.
Associates and close friends of the charismatic environmental leader said Frank had been actively working and attending meetings all last week, and that his death came as a total surprise.
“We are all stunned and not prepared for this,” said W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S'Klallam tribal chairman who worked with Frank on treaty rights and tribal political issues since the early 1980s. “He was bigger than life. It's a very sad day for all of us.”
“He was a selfless leader who dedicated his life to the long fight for the rights of our state's native people,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a written statement. “Billy was a champion of tribal rights, of the salmon and the environment. He did that even when it meant putting himself in physical danger or facing jail.”
Mr. Frank was first arrested for salmon fishing as a Nisqually boy in 1945 — an event that led him on a long campaign for tribal rights. Frank was known specifically for his grass-roots campaign for fishing rights on the tribe's Nisqually River north of Olympia in the 1960s and 1970s.
Frank was arrested more than 50 times in the "Fish Wars" of that period. The issue was taken to federal courts, and District Judge George Hugo Boldt found in favor of the tribes in 1974.
The Boldt Decision established the 20 treaty tribes in Western Washington — including those on the North Olympic Peninsula — as co-managers of the salmon resource, and reaffirmed the tribal right to half of the harvestable salmon returning to Western Washington.
Frank was chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 30 years.
He was an honored figure at September 2011 ceremonies marking the beginning of the Elwha River dams removals, which are now nearly complete.
At the ceremony, the then-80-year-old Frank was introduced to the podium at the outdoor location near the Elwha Dam.
Freeing the Elwha “is what it's all about,” Frank told the crowd.
“When you say the Elwha people are strong, you're damn right they're strong.”
That was unusually “good behavior” for Frank, said the next speaker, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire.
His speech, shorter than she's ever heard, made this “a historic moment,” she said.