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Billy Frank Jr. Has Gone Home Too Soon

Ryan Wilson
5/7/14

"God Damn Son of a Bitch!" was my favorite Billy Frank Jr. quote. It was usually prefaced by a professorial lecture on issues like water quality, marine biology, salmon genes, habitat, forestry, treaty rights and so forth. Breaking from a Harvard style vernacular on science Billy would get fired up and lay into some politician or agency, when it came to protecting salmon he would spare nobody.

The fishing and treaty rights warrior has gone home, even at the age of 83 it seems unfair and too soon. Anyone who knew Billy was looking forward to his 90th birthday celebration, and figuring he would break the century mark. Billy didn't just live a full and rich life he led probably three or four full lives by Indian standards.

RELATED: Billy Frank Jr., 1931-2014: ‘A Giant’ Will Be Missed

Much will be written in the coming days of the Northwest fishing wars, the revival of treaty rights and his leadership in both. I want to share another side of his life. I always viewed Billy as a quintessential educator.

I've known Billy for most of my life but only started working with him in 1999 when I enlisted as one of Joe Delacruz's and Ron Allen's foot soldiers in the famous Native Vote effort to retire U.S. Senator Slade Gorton. When Joe D. passed away Billy and Ron Allen became the face of the campaign. Both empowered me to mobilize youth and college students as well as organize the campaign's signature Native vote rally on the University of Washington campus. With Joe Delacruz's military flag flying high over the outdoor rally on the U of W's flagpole Billy took to the stage and delivered his iconic "Salmon Vote" speech. We registered 1,500 enthusiastic Democratic voters that day and launched a tidal wave of momentum that would end the great Indian fighters political career.

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