Last Friday members of the Washington state Congressional delegation passed a resolution designating March 9, the day of Billy Frank Jr.’s birth, as an official national day of remembrance of his life, legacy and accomplishments.

Also on Frank Jr.’s birthday on Friday was a dedication and blessing of a park and trail in Frank Jr.’s name by the Port of Olympia.

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Patty Murray (D-Washington) and U.S. Representatives Denny Heck (D-Washington) and Derek Kilmer (D-Washington) introduced a resolution to honor Billy Frank Jr.

“Whereas Billy Frank, Jr., refused to be bitter in the face of jail, racism, and abuse, and his influence was felt not just in Washington state but around the world,” the resolution reads, “the legacy of Billy Frank, Jr., will live on in stories, in memories, and every time a Tribal member exercises his or her right to harvest salmon in Washington State ... Billy Frank, Jr., continues to inspire those still around today and those still to come.”

Billy Frank Jr., a member of the Nisqually Tribe, was a longtime Indian treaty rights and environmental activist, known for leading the fight to restore and protect Treaty fishing rights in Washington state. For decades, he organized demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience to fight for tribal rights, culminating in the 1979 Supreme Court decision in Washington v. Washington State Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel Ass’n, which affirmed the treaty rights of tribes to fair fishing access. 

After the decision, as Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC), Frank Jr., helped develop the Puget Sound Salmon Management Plan, as well as working with state agencies and other groups to protect Treaty rights, protect salmon habitat, and sustainably manage fisheries throughout the state. In 2015, President Obama posthumously awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the United States government.

In 2015, Senators Cantwell and Murray and Representatives Heck and Kilmer introduced the Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act to rename the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state as the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The bill, supported by the entire Washington congressional delegation, passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law on December 18, 2015.  

Waterfront Project Honors Billy Frank Jr. 

The Port of Olympia Commission also on Friday celebrated its renaming East Bay Trail and NorthPoint Park in honor of the late Billy Frank Jr., in partnership with the Squaxin Island Tribe and the Frank Family, with a dedication and blessing ceremony.

After receiving a petition to rename a portion of Marine Drive in honor of the local leader, Port staff consulted with the family and conducted a broader public review process to determine how best to proceed. This dialogue resulted in a modified proposal to celebrate the life and messages of Frank by directly linking them to the Puget Sound. 

As currently envisioned, several educational kiosks and interpretive signs will be installed along the trail and in the park terminus, each highlighting a unique aspect of Frank, the Squaxin Island Tribe and the life-cycle of salmon. Signage would also be added to provide education about the native plants already lining the trail, and to commemorate two previous Canoe Landings (Squaxin, 2012 and Nisqually, 2016). 

The full project is estimated to cost approximately $80,000. The Port Commission has agreed to provide up to $25,000 to support development and implementation costs, while the Squaxin Island Tribe and Salmon Defense will secure the remaining funds. 

“This is a great opportunity to educate people on the History of Billy Frank Jr.  He spent his life working to protect the environment and salmon. My dad realized, after being arrested over 50 times for exercising his treaty right, that we all need to come together for the health of the salmon and Puget Sound,” stated Willie Frank. 

Squaxin Island Tribe Chairman Arnold Cooper stated, “The Squaxin Island Tribe is honored to be working with the Port of Olympia and the Frank family on the dedication of the Billy Frank Jr. Trail and Park. This is a great opportunity to honor Billy’s legacy while educating the community on our history and culture.”

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