Gov. Inslee signs bill to put statue of tribal rights activist Billy Frank Jr. at U.S. Capitol
Members of Billy Frank Jr.’s family were with Governor Jay Inslee earlier this week when he signed a bill authorizing a statue in the nation’s Capitol to honor the tribal rights activist.
The signing ceremony for HB 1372 was held at the Wa He Lut Indian School in Olympia on Wednesday.
“I couldn’t think of a better place to be but right here in the lobby of the Wa He Lut Indian School where my father’s canoe hangs still,” said Willie Frank III, Frank Jr.’s son and Nisqually Tribe councilman.
“My father was arrested over 50 times in his life right here on the Nisqually river for exercising his treaty right. My brother and I, we still fish in the same set where my father and grandfather fished,” Frank III said.
Gov. Inslee was joined at the ceremony by members of Frank Jr.’s family, tribal and community members, Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, and bill sponsor Rep. Debra Lekanoff.
“When asked how to make a difference and bring about change, Billy was known to tell people to ‘tell your story,'” said Lekanoff, the only Native American currently serving in Washington Legislature. “Through Billy’s story, and decades of activism, we learn about the story of Washington state, not just the easy narrative, but the parts that are hard and challenging. We learn about the importance of standing up for what is right and just even when facing persecution. A statue among other national heroes is the right way to honor his legacy, elevate his story, and inspire future generations to tell their own.”
Billy Frank Jr. was an advocate for equality, justice, and environmental protections, known for his commitment to protecting endangered salmon and treaty rights guaranteed to Washington tribes. He served as Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for nearly 30 years, and helped organize “fish-ins” and demonstrations, which led to what is known as the Boldt Decision, a federal court case that reaffirmed tribal fishing rights.
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received several awards for his advocacy over his lifetime. In 2015, Frank Jr. was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Billy Frank Jr.’s legacy should inspire Washingtonians to have open discussions about our place in the world, both what we take from the earth and what we give back,” Inslee said. “And it reaffirms certain truths as old as the Nisqually Tribe itself: That the environment is not just a resource; it is our home, and we must protect it.”
Billy Frank Jr.’s statue will replace one of white settler Marcus Whitman as one of two statues representing Washington state in Washington, D.C., in the National Statuary Hall. The hall displays two statues of notable citizens from each state. The other statue there on Washington state’s behalf is of Mother Joseph.
“My dad was only 5’7″ but he always felt 10 feet tall and bulletproof,” Frank III said. “I hope that when people walk by his statue in Washington, D.C., they feel some of that ‘Billy Magic.'”
The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.