Billy Frank, Jr., 2011 winner of Seattle Aquarium Medal, passes away

A message from Seattle Aquarium President & CEO Bob Davidson

We at the Seattle Aquarium were saddened to learn of the recent passing of Nisqually Tribal member and internationally recognized Native American civil rights leader Billy Frank, Jr.

Billy spent much of his life advocating for human rights for all, particularly the Indian people of Western Washington. He was on the front line in the controversy protecting treaty-guaranteed Indian fishing rights in the 1960s and ‘70s. His perseverance landed him in jail more than 40 times, but he also helped guarantee Indian fishing rights when the Boldt Decision was handed down in the late 1970s.

Billy applied his reputation, his talents and his energy to reach across many divides to preserve the Pacific salmon and its habitat. He was a true statesman, a wise elder nudging contentious factions to resolve their differences and protect the salmon and the habitats it requires. His hope for the future of Puget Sound and the survival of the salmon, orcas and his ancient heritage were inspiring to us all.

In a biographical book called Messages from Frank’s Landing, Charles Wilkinson quotes Billy as follows: “I don’t believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That’s what I believe in.”

Billy didn’t need mountains of research studies to tell him that we have much work ahead of us, and our renewed commitment will be his legacy. Our condolences to Billy’s family and loved ones.

Bob Davidson signature


Bob Davidson, President & CEO
Seattle Aquarium

About Billy Frank, Jr.:Billy Frank Jr.
In 1981, Billy Frank began serving as Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, where he “spoke for the salmon” on behalf of 20 Treaty Indian Tribes in Western Washington. Among many affiliations, Frank was a member of the Leadership Council, the governing body of the Puget Sound Partnership; the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition; Native American Fish and Wildlife Society; National Congress of American Indians; and the Timber-Fish-Wildlife Process Policy Committee.

Billy Frank was celebrated regionally, nationally and internationally as an outstanding Native American human rights leader and was been the recipient of numerous recognition awards including The Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism; The Indian Country Today American Visionary Award; The Nature Conservancy Conservation Hero Award; and the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation Leadership & Personal Stewardship award. He was honored in 2011 with the Seattle Aquarium’s highest award, the Seattle Aquarium Medal, which is presented annually to an individual whose leadership and lifetime accomplishments reflect the mission of the Seattle Aquarium: Inspiring Conservation of our Marine Environment. In Billy Frank, Jr., we found a leader who was committed to the survival of the salmon species and to preserving and protecting Puget Sound.

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