President Obama Honors Billy Frank Jr.

Published on Nov 18, 2015

November 18, 2015

Jamie Gomez  

Washington, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) today commended President Obama for honoring the late Billy Frank, Jr., member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe, as one of 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

This nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is bestowed upon individuals “who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The award will be presented to Billy’s family at the White House on November 24th.

“Billy was a tireless advocate for the rights of Native Americans,” said Brian Cladoosby, President of NCAI and Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. “Billy’s voice spoke for the salmon and the resources and most importantly for the children of our future so they may have the rights preserved for them more than a century ago.”

Billy Frank, Jr. spent his life fighting for tribes’ right to fish and protect their waters, and fiercely advocated for the complete fulfillment of treaty commitments by the federal government. He was arrested more than 50 times during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and 1970s, a struggle which culminated in the seminal U.S. v. Washington court case, in which Judge George Hugo Boldt found in favor of treaty fishing rights in 1974. The Boldt Decision established treaty Indian tribes as co-managers of the salmon resource and reaffirmed the tribal right to half of the harvestable salmon. Frank served as Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) from its inception in 1974 until his passing last year. NWIFC was created to assist member tribes in their role as natural resources co-managers following the Boldt Decision.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the latest in a long line of distinguished awards that Frank, Jr. has received in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to Indian Country. They include the Common Cause Award for Human Rights Efforts, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism (past winners of which include President Jimmy Carter, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and author Norman Cousins), the American Indian Distinguished Service Award, the 2006 Wallace Stegner Award, and the Washington State Environmental Excellence Award. NCAI also recognized Frank with the Native American Leadership Award at its Annual Leadership Awards Banquet in 2011 for his lifelong dedication to preserve, protect, and advance tribal sovereignty, Native cultures and natural resource management.

Joining Billy Frank, Jr. as this year’s recipients of the Medal of Freedom are baseball great Yogi Berra (posthumous), public servant Bonnie Carroll, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (posthumous), music producer Emilio Estefan, singer Gloria Estefan, Congressman Lee Hamilton, space pioneer Katherine G. Johnson, baseball great Willie Mays, Senator Barbara Mikulski, conductor Itzhak Perlman, former EPA Director William Ruckelshaus, theater composer Stephen Sondheim, film director Steven Spielberg, singer Barbra Streisand, singer James Taylor, and civil rights leader Minru Yasui (posthumous).

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About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit

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