OLYMPIA – Earlier today, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation to honor Billy Frank Jr. by placing a statue of him in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C.
The National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol displays two statues of notable citizens from each state. Washington state currently has contributed statues of Marcus Whitman and Mother Joseph. House Bill 1372, sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow), authorizes bringing Whitman’s statue back to Washington state and placing one of Billy Frank Jr., a dedicated advocate for equality, justice, and environmental protections, into the collection.
“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 the Washington State 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 known for his commitment to protecting endangered salmon and the treaty rights guaranteed to Washington tribes, and served as Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for nearly 30 years. He helped to organize “fish-ins” and demonstrations, which led to what is known as the Boldt Decision, a federal court case that reaffirmed tribal fishing rights. Frank was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received several awards for his advocacy, including the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, the American Indian Distinguished Service Award, the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award, and the Washington State Medal of Merit. In 2015, Billy 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. 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,” Gov. Inslee said. “When Billy spoke, people listened. His presence in the National Statuary Hall will keep more people listening for generations to come.”
“Billy went from being a self-described ‘getting arrested guy’ when he was protesting on behalf of treaty fishing rights to being perhaps the greatest consensus builder and peacemaker ever around issues of cool, clean water, healthy salmon runs and natural resources,” said Lt. Governor Denny Heck during his testimony on the bill. “Every single time any person from Washington visits our nation’s Capitol, they will stop, they will look up, and they will stand tall and proud, because Billy Frank was a great man.”
“This is a tremendous honor for the Nisqually Tribe and our family,” said Councilman Willie Frank III, of the Nisqually Tribe and Billy Frank Jr.’s son. “I think this will be the biggest accomplishment for my dad’s legacy. We will be able to educate folks about Billy Frank Jr. and why he was honored and recognized. Sharing his story will be vital to the future of all our tribes and continuing to bring us all here in the state of Washington together in our commitment to bring our salmon home for future generations. My dad was only 5’7” but he always felt 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I hope that when people walk by his statue in Washington, D.C., they feel some of that ‘Billy Magic.’”
In his work and advocacy, Billy Frank Jr. was recognized as a unifier. He was known for his ability to bring people together, listen to those with different opinions, and unite diverse interests behind a common plan. That legacy was made even more clear with the strong, bipartisan support of House Bill 1372 throughout the legislative process.
“I’m proud to have represented Billy Frank Jr. and his family in the House of Representatives and to share the Nisqually River with all of the Nisqually Tribe. Billy was an incredible leader who fought valiantly for treaty rights and to preserve our environment for future generations. Despite facing relentless persecution, he had a spirit of grace and forgiveness that still serves as an example for all of us today. It is great to know he will now be honored in a way that will endure for generations,” said House Republican Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm).