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Inslee signs bill to put statue of Billy Frank Jr. in U.S. Capitol

Gov. Jay Inslee signed HB 1372 today, which will place a statue of tribal leader Billy Frank Jr. in the National Statuary Hall. Inslee was joined by members of Frank’s family, tribal and community members, Lt. Gov. Denny Heck and Rep. Debra Lekanoff when he signed the bill in a ceremony at Wa He Lut Indian School in Olympia.

“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,” Inslee said.

Frank’s statue will replace Marcus Whitman as one of Washington’s two statues represented in the U.S. Capitol. Mother Joseph Pariseau is the other statue representing Washington state in the U.S. Capitol. Mother Joseph’s statue was placed in 1980. Replicas of both statues are in the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia.

“Billy Frank Jr. walked every watershed to the east and west of the mountains. He stood in every river, wishing for the salmon to come home, and then took action by collaborating with local, tribal, state, and federal communities to rise and stand together,” said Rep. Lekanoff, sponsor of HB 1372 and the only Native American currently serving in the Washington State Legislature. “His story is one of a dedicated advocate who stood against persecution and fought for equality and justice, and to protect our water, land, and air for the generations to come. His statue will serve to honor his legacy and as a call to action for all who see it.”

Who was Billy Frank Jr.?

The 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek guaranteed tribal fishing rights, yet those rights were ignored by state government for generations.

Frank’s first arrest for fishing in the Nisqually River — the same as his ancestors had done for 10,000 years — was in 1945. He was 14 years old. It was the first of more than 50 arrests in his life in acts of civil disobedience that drew attention to the plight of Washington’s native tribes and the basic rights they were being denied. This led to the Boldt decision in U.S. vs. Washington in 1974, which upheld the treaty rights the Nisqually and other tribes had been denied. Five years later, the decision was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state had to come to the table with tribes to hammer out specifics of sharing fishing resources. Frank led that years-long process, working with the state and other non-Indian groups to manage fisheries, restore habitats, and protect treaty rights.

His was honored with the presidential Medal of Freedom, the Washington State Environmental Excellence Award, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, and more, before he passed in 2014, at age 83.

“When Billy spoke, people listened. His presence in the National Statuary Hall will keep more people listening for generations to come,” Inslee said.

Content provided by Office of the Governor.

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