The great Nisqually tribal-rights advocate Billy Frank Jr. is about to be honored for the second time in as many months on a national stage.
Legislation awaiting President Obama’s signature will soon change the name of the Nisqually wildlife refuge as the Billy Frank Jr. National Wildlife Refuge.
This welcome act honors Frank, a Nisqually tribal member who was a leader in defending tribal sovereignty and treaty rights starting with fish-ins along the Nisqually River in the 1960s. Frank, who was arrested in those protests, grew up along the Nisqually and lived there until his death last year at the age of 83.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, an Olympia Democrat, sponsored the “Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act, which passed the Senate on Monday after clearing the House on a previous vote.
“Billy didn’t wait for change, or demand change, he created change,” Heck said in a statement. “He didn’t just talk about the pollution the salmon face, or how the water is unclean, he developed solutions and found ways to get things done. This successful push to add his name to the cherished Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is a fitting tribute to a hero from the area who was never afraid of the work that goes behind every change we seek.”
The “Tell Your Story” in the title of the bill is an echo of Frank’s admonition to others to tell their stories, according to Heck.
Our state’s congressional delegation supported the measure unanimously, reflecting the tremendous impact that Frank and fellow rights advocates have had over nearly five decades. They used protests and court action to enforce the treaties of Medicine Creek and change public opinion.
In recent decades Frank carried out his advocacy for salmon recovery, habitat protection, and respect for treaty fishing rights with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Lorraine Loomis, chair of the commission, said in a statement that Frank was “key in the effort to return much of the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge to salmon habitat by breaching the dikes that once surrounded it. … He was proud of the hundreds of acres of new salmon habitat that were created. He would be especially pleased by the bill's provision to mark the site near the refuge where the Medicine Creek Treaty was signed on Dec. 26, 1854.”
Frank was honored last month with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award.
Heck’s legislation instructs the Interior Department to build a memorial in the refuge that will commemorate the Medicine Creek Treaty’s signing. Interior is also required to coordinate with representatives of the South Sound tribes who signed the treaty – the Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Puyallup and Muckleshoot – to create educational materials for the national memorial site.
We look forward to seeing the treaty site used to teach about native history and sovereignty to visitors from around the country.
The Medicine Creek Treaty took away traditional lands belonging to many local tribes, but promised rights including fishing that were not honored for more than a century.