Timeline of Billy Frank Jr.

This timeline explores the life and legacy of Nisqually activist Billy Frank Jr. Billy will be honored with a statue in National Statuary Hall in 2025.


March 9, 1931



Billy Frank Jr. is born on March 9 to Willie Frank Sr. (Qui-Lash-Kut) and Angeline Frank.



First arrest

At 14 years old, Billy is arrested for the first time for fishing off reservation in his family’s traditional fishing area on the Nisqually River.



Military service

At age 21, Billy joins the U.S. Marines, where he serves for two years.




The Washington departments of Fisheries and Game establish state authority to prohibit net fishing by Indians in off-reservation rivers.



The Fish Wars

Tribal citizens organize fish-ins to protest the violation of their treaty-protected rights. A self-proclaimed “getting arrested guy,” Billy goes to jail more than 50 times for fishing off-reservation and becomes a leader in the fight for tribal treaty rights.




The United States government sues the state of Washington on behalf of the tribes for violating their treaty-protected right to fish.



U.S. v. Washington – the “Boldt Decision”

Federal Judge George Boldt issues his decision in U.S. v. Washington, upholding tribes’ right to 50% of salmon, steelhead and other fish, and establishing them as co-managers of the fisheries.




Tribal leaders create the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission to give “the treaty tribes the capability of speaking with a single voice on fisheries management and conservation matters.”




Billy is elected to represent Medicine Creek Treaty tribes on the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “The fighting, that is, the fish-ins and demonstrations, is over now, I hope. My past is in the past; I’m looking forward to what will happen in the next 10 years as far as the development of the resource is concerned.” He serves on the commission for the rest of his life, most of those years as chairman.

As the Nisqually Tribe’s fisheries manager, Billy leads the effort to restore flow to the Nisqually River. More than a decade later, the city of Tacoma will build fish ladders on Alder Dam and agree to provide instream flows for fish and pay for environmental damages.




The Nisqually Tribe opens the Kalama Creek Fish Hatchery on the Nisqually River.




Billy is awarded the Washington State Environmental Excellence Award from the state Ecological Commission.




Billy’s commitment to forging relationships with other natural resources managers leads to the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Agreement, a cooperative science-based management approach ensuring a healthy timber industry while also protecting fish and wildlife.




Federally recognized tribes in Washington sign the Centennial Accord with Gov. Booth Gardner to provide a framework for a “government to government relationship and implementation procedures to assure execution of that relationship.”




The Nisqually Tribe builds the Clear Creek Hatchery on lands within Joint Base Lewis-McChord that had been taken from the Nisqually Reservation by the city of Tacoma.




Billy is awarded the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism for exemplary contributions to humanity and the environment.




Judge Edward Rafeedie rules in a subproceeding of U.S. v. Washington that the tribal treaty right to harvest includes shellfish on public and private tidelands.




Under Billy’s leadership, treaty tribes file suit for the court to determine the state of Washington has a treaty-based duty to preserve fish runs and habitat, seeking to compel the state to repair or replace culverts that impede salmon migration.




The University of Colorado at Boulder’s Center of the American West awards Billy with the Wallace Stegner Award for his contribution to the cultural identity of the West.




Puget Sound commercial shellfish growers and 17 treaty tribes in western Washington sign the Shellfish Agreement to address treaty shellfish harvest rights, preserve the health of the shellfish industry and provide greater shellfish harvest opportunities for everyone in the state.




Federal district court rules that state culverts that block fish and diminish salmon runs violate treaty fishing rights.




Billy leads the Treaty Rights at Risk Initiative, calling on the federal government to meet its obligation as trustee to align its agencies to protect treaty rights and lead a better coordinated salmon recovery effort.




Billy testifies before the Senate of Indian Affairs Committee on Climate Change.




Federal district court orders the state to significantly increase the effort to remove and replace state-owned culverts that block habitat for salmon and steelhead by 2030. The state will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will uphold the decision in 2018.



May 2014 Billy Frank Jr. walks on at the age of 83.




President Obama posthumously awards Billy with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.




Billy Frank Jr. is inducted into the National Native American Hall of Fame for his advocacy as a Native American rights and environmental leader.




Washington state passes legislation for a statue of Billy to represent the state in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.




The U.S. Navy announces plans to name a Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ship after Billy, in recognition of his service in the U.S. Marine Corps and his leadership in the fight for treaty rights. It will be the first ship named after an individual Native American.

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🎉Billy Frank Jr. statue maquette unveiled

Billy Frank Jr
From left to right: Representative Chris Stearns (D-Auburn 47th), Nisqually Vice Chair Antonette Squally, Puyallup Tribal member and treaty rights activist Nancy Shippentower, and Nisqually Chairman Willie Frank III stand…