Legendary Aboriginal ‘Fish Wars’ Leader Passes Away at 83

Legendary leader of the "Fish Wars," Billy Franks Jr passed away today at the age of 83. Image-screenshot cover of Where the Salmon Run by Trova Heffernan
Legendary leader of the “Fish Wars,” Billy Franks Jr passed away today at the age of 83. Image-screenshot cover of Where the Salmon Run by Trova Heffernan

Today saw the passing of a legendary Indian fishing rights leader and spokesman for the northwest Indian tribes. Billy Franks Jr passed away on Monday morning at the age of 83.

Franks and his tribe was at the center of the controversy in the state of Washington as the Nisqually tribe fought for its rights written in the Treaty of 1854. That treaty  included the Nisqually, Puyallup, Steilacoom, Squawskin, S’Homamish, Stehchass, T’Peeksin, Squi-aitl, and Sa-heh-wamish tribes and was ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1855. That treaty traded the vast majority of lands at the head of Puget Sound and in exchange, allowed the Indians a small island, $32,500 and “The right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory…”

He would be arrested over fifty times over the years and charged with illegal fishing and other fisheries related charges and was considered an outlaw for a time. He was first arrested at the age of fourteen for illegal fishing, to which he exclaimed, ”Leave me alone, goddamn it! I live here.”

Franks blogged at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, where he posted his final blog timestamped this morning.

As time will mark his life and  passing as a great aboriginal protector of salmon and tribal rights. The Alaska Native News will mark his passing with a re-posting of a Billie Franks Jr biography written as a part of the Washington State Heritage Center Legacy Project written by Trova Heffernan and sponsored by the Secretary of State’s Legacy Washington Project.

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The story cannot be told without the Preface and the Introduction, and so those items will be the beginning of the Billy Franks tale. The next chapter, posted tomorrow will tell the story of  Billy Franks’ grandfather Willy Franks. Billy’s grandfather, the true beginnings of Billy Frank’s life and mission.

Following today, we will post a chapter a day. Below is the beginning of a 22 chapter tale.



Spawning salmon will not go unnoticed. The fish travel saltwater highways of the ocean and transform into something of a spectacle. Their bodies turn varying shades of red. Their noses curve into hooks and large swells form on their backs. Approaching death, their once healthy bodies deteriorate. The fish die and a new cycle of life begins.

Salmon are miracles of the ocean, crossing for years thousands of treacherous miles along the West Coast of North America. They are well equipped for the journey. Muscular bodies and caudal fins can lift the fish to unbelievable heights. They clear waterfalls and swim against ocean currents and river flows. Salmon can smell a single drop in 250 gallons of water. This keen sense of smell guides the fish back to their spawning grounds, where they carefully bury their eggs in gravel nests. But out of a thousand eggs, only a fraction of adult salmon will survive the journey.

For all their strength, salmon cannot overpower the ravages of humans and the seeds of development, which have wreaked havoc on their environment. To live, salmon depend on cool, clean water and secure stream banks. Deteriorating habitat and overfishing have devastated runs. International vessels and fleets have intercepted huge numbers of fish. Dams have blocked passages to spawning grounds. Turbines have disoriented the salmon and marked them as easy prey.

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Continued on next page….

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