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"Life of a Salmon Warrior: Billy Frank Jr. Dies"
by Gary Chittim, KING 5 News (NBC Seattle)
May 5th, 2014


billy pounds fist           

"The Fight Never Ends..."

- Billy Frank Jr.  1931-2014

Vocation / Education / Entertainment / Empowerment

Created by Billy Frank, Jr. and Michael Harris

Made Possible through the Support of Individuals and Institutions such as The Kathy & Steve Berman Environmental Law Clinic, The University of Washington School of Law, The University of Victoria School of Law, Trillium Corporation, Lenga Patagonia, Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Baby Wild Films, Pacific Image Productions, Tamaki Foundation, the Northwest Chapter of the National Association of Television Arts & Sciences, Snoqualmie Tribe, Mattson and Rodgers PLLC, Alaska Pacific University and The Institute for Village Resilience, and The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

This extraordinary project pulls together some of the region’s most accomplished educators, media professionals and legal advocates and historians to create a completely new paradigm of cultural and environmental advocacy, borne of the hopes and hardships of our First Nations. THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is a multi‐platform series of specials and short films, following Billy Frank Jr. as he travels to these spectacular and far‐flung locations, immersing himself in these cultures, witnessing stories and telling his own, and bringing to the non‐Native world a deeply honest and absolutely engaging experience with Indian Country. THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is direct action education – a living learning tool customized for each curriculum, design to be adaptable to all students young and old, and often delivered personally to classrooms and community centers by Michael and others involved in the project. The irrepressible message? Know your history, know your rights, find your voice, tell your own stories, make change... and here’s how to do it. To Billy, environmental justice was a human right. In his lifetime, it was worth risking his life and freedom. Because of the courage of people like him, the First Nations of the world now have within their grasp the power to protect their sacred places, stop the land grabs, fight the clearcuts, and literally turn back the tides of a warming Arctic. In our visits to these communities, THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY will take away images but leave much more – legal resources, critical global partnerships, hope.

*See Billy Frank Jr. Scholarship / Julien Jacobs.

zs-TIIC Slide eeo-e8-BWFslideshow45-1Working with the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY will also be a vocational initiative, opening career opportunities for emerging indigenous photojournalists.* The project won’t just parachute into a location like many TV crews do, shooting for a few days and then never returning. The project will build lifelong relationships in the communities it serves. THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY will equip and mentor young villagers to the craft and disciplines of newsgathering, and of modern digital storytelling. With the help of veteran broadcast professionals, Native Alaskan youth living in Arctic villages now slipping into the sea will soon document the dramatic impacts of climate change with new, state‐of‐the‐art, high‐definition video cameras, providing powerful images and first‐hand accounts of the crisis to the rest of the world. Pacific Islanders will chronicle first‐hand the rising sea levels that threaten their homelands. And young filmmakers on reservations throughout North America will gather intimate accounts of how tribes and bands are drawing on the legal remedies now available to them to protect and restore their natural heritage – largely because of people like Billy Frank Jr. They now have a place at the table. But as Billy said, “We still need to pound our fist on it from time to time.” 

MHandBillyFrankIMG 1057 smBilly Frank Jr. and Michael Harris, at Billy’s 80th Birthday Party, attended by over "800 of his closest friends," including Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.

Hosted and narrated by Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, winner of the Northwest Regional Emmy Award for “Outstanding On-Air Host or Moderator.” Produced, directed and edited by 11‐time Emmy Award‐winning filmmaker and digital journalist Michael Harris (ABC News Good Morning America; ONE WORLD With Olivia Newton John: THE GALAPAGOS; Discovery’s Popular Science With Dean Stockwell; THE INLAND SEA With Jean-Michel Cousteau), with an original score and music by seven‐time ASCAP Award-winning composer Tim Truman (MGM’s Jeremiah, Aaron Spelling’s Melrose Place and Charmed). Director of Photography is Kevin Ely (MTV; VH1; ABC News; NBC News; CBS’s 48 Hours and 60 Minutes). Co‐written by Billy Frank, Jr. and Michael Harris. Series Consultants are University of Washington Professor Robert Anderson, Director of the Native American Law Center and Enrolled Member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe; and William H. Rodgers, Jr., Stimson Bullitt Professor of Law at the University of Washington, author of "Environmental Law in Indian Country" and "The Si’lailo Way: Indians, Salmon & Law on the Columbia River."

Nine Hour‐Long Specials, in Progressive High‐Definition Television (HDTV).  

BWF MAST23 MAST HZT23        Baby Wild Logo Large Transparent

MH Laguna San Ignacio Mexico2Principal Creative / Michael Harris
Emmy Award-winning network producer and digital journalist Michael Harris creates some of the most interesting television now coming out of the Pacific Northwest. His specials, films and documentaries have garnered numerous industry awards, including 11 Emmys and over 45 Emmy nominations in 15 different categories, from Producer, Writer, Editor, Director, Photographer to Composer, and last year was even recognized in the coveted category of “Outstanding Host,” one of just four nominees across the five-state region, for the KOMO (ABC Seattle) primetime special, GIANTS of the Pacific Northwest. /  Baby Wild Films


THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr. was the legendary Native activist’s last major project before he passed in May 2014. At the time of his death he had completed two of the nine specials he and director Michael Harris mapped out for the series – a powerful piece on the climate crisis from the perspective of the great whaling people of the Arctic, and “Native Alaska & The Big Spill,” which took Billy to villages still reeling from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The latter won him his first-ever Emmy Award in the coveted category of “Outstanding On-Air Host or Moderator.” At 79 he was the oldest recipient of an Emmy in Regional Chapter history.

Billy’s best work was yet to come. He and Michael began writing and shooting more episodes for the series, perhaps the most important to Billy being a special that looks back at the famous “Fish Wars” of the 1960s and ‘70s, the direct action which led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the tribes as co-managers of Washington State’s fisheries. The special was documenting two high-profile, Native-led reclamation efforts now underway to bring the fish back to Puget Sound – the Nisqually Delta Reclamation project, and the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams on the Elwha River, home to what was once the largest salmon-producing river system in the U.S. Billy was also planning a visit his Native Canadian cousins, witnessing their ongoing battle against runaway fish farms in their ancestral waters, a grave threat to wild salmon and all the Salmon People.

“The New Fish Wars – The Fight for Puget Sound” would be highlighted by an extraordinary, historic event – the reuniting of the veterans of the Fish Wars, the great treaty fishing rights battles of the 1960s and 70s. In a campfire gathering, elders and their survivors will share their remarkable remembrances of two decades of direct action that ultimately led to the 1974 "Boldt Decision," upheld in U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. The day will no doubt be dynamic and revealing, both reverent and irreverent, sometimes hilarious, other times heart wrenching. And those attending and sharing stories will be surprisingly diverse, from the warriors themselves who often risked their lives to continue their traditional way of living, to the volunteer litigators who had the audacity to advocate for their Indian neighbors, and then make it a winning case in the nation's highest courts, to some of the celebrities who lent their fame to the fight, like friends and family of the just recently departed Dick Gregory, the comedian who was deadly serious about Indian fishing rights, who together with his wife demanded to be put into prison and serve time for his Fish-In support.

The special will also include extended one-on-one oral history interviews with some of the Fish Warriors, as well as with some of the friends and family of those no longer with us, who sacrificed so much to preserve their way of life. For Billy, this gathering was incredibly important, because “every day we lose these stories,” that with each passing of these elders the battles they fought for treaty fishing rights become less understood by new generations. He saw a sense of urgency in creating “The New Fish Wars – The Fight for Puget Sound.” We were losing so many of his contemporaries. Then, we lost Billy.

“This television project meant a great deal to my father,” explains Willie Frank III, who will host the remaining episodes of the series, and present additional narratives that have emerged in Indian Country since Billy’s passing. “He knew that what we were doing was preserving these stories forever – not like some boring museum, but in a very real, living way. We were inspiring future generations to stand up and fight for our people, like we did at Standing Rock, and like how our Northwest tribes now are fighting things like fuel trains and fish farms in Indian Country. Dad even wanted to recreate the Battle of Connell’s Prairie of 1856, riding a horse into battle with Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, at war then with Nisqually Chief Leschi. But it’s not just about history, it’s about how our history informs us going forward. This TV series was always a legacy project for him, and it still is.”

In 2010 Billy was nominated by his old friend Sen. Daniel Inouye for a Nobel Peace Prize, and the honors continue to be bestowed on him even after his passing. The United States Congress voted to rename the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge after Billy, and he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

“He wouldn’t have wanted that,” Willie says about the Medal of Freedom, but “he would have given the president the biggest hug in the world.”

Continuing THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is a big hug for Billy, wherever he may be now. The series will still be “With Billy Frank Jr.,” with his son sharing recurring segments of his father from previous journeys as well as animated shorts produced by Injunuity, a Native Owned Production Company in Oakland California, drawing from Billy’s talks, as well as past THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY interviews. Coordinating these pieces will be Billy’s longtime friend and collaborator, filmmaker Steve Robinson, in partnership with the non-profit organization Salmon Defense.

“To me Billy was a bridge, a way for all of us to walk in two worlds,” remembers Michael (left), an 11-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and longtime Seattle-based producer and photojournalist for ABC News. “He spoke to his people and he spoke to mine, and he brought us all together. In my 30 years in television I’ve never worked with a more dynamic, charismatic and soulful person. A network executive once told me that Billy was ‘straight out of Central Casting,’ but there was no acting in this guy. He was the real deal.

“I realize it was an ambitious thing to project eight or nine TV specials with a guy on the other side of 80,” Michael continues. “But there was something about Billy that we all saw – a sense of forever. I joked with him that he had a binding agreement with me to live at least as long as his father, Willie, who I think topped 100. But looking back now, I think what we saw in Billy was true. He is forever. I’m thrilled to be working with his son now, to carry on this amazing project that Billy and I started, that legacy of bringing people together, saving the planet, and saving ourselves.”


VictoryStudiosLogo145x84  Victory1 
Victory Studios
WHITE TIIC NewTHIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY is produced within the landmark Victory Studios, a full-service post-production company based in Seattle and North Hollywood.  At its Seattle facilities, Victory maintains one of the best-stocked equipment rental shops in the region, as well as two state-of-the-industry sound stages, including "Studio One" with a 61x34-foot cyc wall for about 2,600 square feet of quiet, controlled production space.  Also in house is "Victory Live," one of the Northwest's most experienced teams in streaming and capturing live events.



In the Works...



"The New Fish Wars - The Fight for Puget Sound"
Episode Description:

A highly publicized effort is now underway now to restore and protect Puget Sound, the Inland Sea of the State of Washington. An ambitious Action Plan has been crafted by a cross-section of environmental, industry and elected leaders to clean up the Sound, to make it healthy again for people and wildlife, including its endangered resident orcas and iconic salmon. But the success of this effort rests in how well this delicate coalition works together and builds a consensus. Perhaps the most critical partners at the table are the 20 treaty tribes of Washington, by law the co-managers of the fisheries here. The special looks back at what got them there – the famous “Fish Wars” of the 1960s and ‘70s, the direct and uncompromising civil disobedience of Native people throughout the Pacific Northwest, defying a cross-section of federal and local law enforcement, inviting threats to life and liberty with extraordinary courage – and a surprising amount of humor – and ultimately winning the right to live as they have for time immemorial. The episode frames these Fish War stories with two high-profile, Native-led restoration efforts underway to bring the fish back to Puget Sound – the Nisqually Delta Restoration Project, and the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams on the Elwha River, home to what was once one of the largest salmon-producing river systems in North America.


Proposed Locations Include: Frank's Landing, Puyallup River Encampment, Nisqually Delta, Celilo Falls/Columbia River

Fish Wars Reunion

r-TIIC Slide TIIC Fish Wars FireTHIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr. will have the honor of participating in an extraordinary, historic event – the reuniting of the veterans of The Fish Wars, the great treaty fishing rights battles of the 1960s and 70s. In an extraordinary campfire gathering at the site of the famous Puyallup River Encampment of 1970, The event will be a remarkable remembrance of two decades of direct action that ultimately led to the 1974 "Boldt Decision," upheld in U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. The day will no doubt be dynamic and revealing, both reverent and irreverent, sometimes hilarious, other times heart-wrenching. And those attending and sharing stories will be surpisingly diverse, from the warriors themselves who often risked their lives (and some gave theirs) to continue their traditional way of living… to the volunteer litigators who had the audacity to advocate for their Indian neighbors, and then make it a winning case in the nation's highest courts… perhaps even some of the celebrities who lent their fame to the fight, like Dick Gregory, the comedian who was deadly serious about Indian fishing rights, who together with his wife demanded to be put into prison and serve time for his Fish-In support. And of course, since this is a gathering of fishermen on the banks of a river and the Chinook are starting to run, there could be a few nets tossed in the water, as well.

The special will also include extended one-on-one oral history interviews with some of the Fish Warriors, as well as with some of the friends and family of those no longer with us, who sacrificed so much to preserve their way of life. The Fish Wars began nearly a half-century ago; these documented stories will help ensure that the spirit of these heroic battles will endure for centuries into the future.

Nisqually Delta

Shoots at the Nisqually Delta 
Wildlife and Scenics; Ints/Nisqually Tribe and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; Timelapse Photography

THIS IS INDIAN COUNTRY With Billy Frank Jr. will document one of the most significant habitat restoration projects in the world, at its most spectacular time of the year. Billy will lead a walking tour of the Nisqually Delta, the largest undeveloped river delta on the west coast of the United States, now given entirely and unconditionally back to Puget Sound – a gift sorely needed by the troubled ecosystem. Millions of drivers pass by the Nisqually along Interstate 5, between the cities of Olympia and Tacoma, and those who make that drive have watched the miracle of nature unfold before their eyes.

After a century of diking off tidal flow, the Brown Farm Dike was removed to inundate 308 acres of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in November 2009. along with 57 acres of wetlands restored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe. The Nisqually Delta represents the largest tidal marsh restoration project in the Pacific Northwest, assisting in recovery of Puget Sound salmon and wildlife populations. Over the past decade, the Refuge and close partners, including the Tribe and Ducks Unlimited, have restored more than 35 km of the historic tidal slough systems and re-connected historic floodplains to Puget Sound, increasing potential salt marsh habitat in the southern reach of Puget Sound by 50%. Estuarine restoration of this magnitude and the potential contribution to restoration science is unprecedented in Puget Sound. Because the mosaic of estuarine habitats, this large-scale restoration is expected to result in a considerable increase in regional ecological functions and services, representing one of the most significant advances to date towards the recovery of Puget Sound.

(below) Billy Frank Jr. at the "Treaty Tree," Nisqually Delta, site of the 1855 Treaty of Medicine Creek.

Nisqually BillyFrank4atTreatyTreeBeyond its importance to the health of Puget Sound, the Delta is also profoundly important to the tribes of Washington State. This is the site of the infamous Treaty of Medicine Creek of 1855, engineered by the hated Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens to pacify the Native people of the Northwest and confine them to designated reservations. However, one leader refused to play Stevens' shell game – Leschi, great Chief of the Nisqually. His resistence led to the 1855-56 "Indian War" between the Territory of Washington and the tribes of Puget Sound, and ultimately the wrongful hanging of Leschi by Stevens, the first recorded case of capital punishment in the region. For a century-and-a-half the "legal murder" of Leschi remained a deep wound in the heart of the tribes, until an unprecedented "Historical Court of Justice" was convened by Washington State Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander that at long last exonerated Leschi. Bringing the Nisqually Delta back to its completely natural, pre-contact state may be another way to heal the wounds of time.

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Shoots at the Elwha River 

Wildlife and Scenics; Ints/Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and National Park Service; Timelapse Photography

In September 2011, at a VIP ceremony hosted by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and attended by dignataries like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, work began on the largest dam removal in U.S. history – along the Elwha River, home to all five species of Pacific salmon, including some of the largest Chinook the world's ever seen. Just a few short months after the 108-foot tall Elwha Dam was removed, fish were already returning to their restored habitat. The last remnants of the Elwha Dam were finally gone in early March, and the Glines Canyon Dam, nine miles upstream, has been reduced to a 50-foot waterfall, with the former Lake Mills reservoir behind it almost gone.

Part of the restoration process was releasing tagged fish into the river above the lower dam to jump start the recolonization of the high-quality habitat that had been cut off from migratory salmon for almost a hundred years. So far about 60 steelhead and 600 salmon have been released into the river upstream of the former dam site. These fish are even spawning already. The return of wild, un-tagged fish that found their own way up the river without human help means that they sense that the river is open again. While out monitoring the river, NOAA scientists spotted several un-tagged steelhead. One was a robust 35 inches, bigger than any of the fish tagged and released. This is encouraging news for the Elwha and for other dam removals nationwide. It confirms what was suspected: that once the barrier is gone, fish can recolonize the river without assistance and at a faster pace than anyone anticipated. The Elwha Experiment is proving an extraordinary success story, and it couldn't have happened without the leadership and persistence of the tribes of the Northwest.

Billy with Dicks and Cantwell sm
CO-MANAGERS – Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman Billy Frank Jr. at the Elwha River with Congressman Norm Dicks and Senator Maria Cantwell.