A bill that would place a statue of renowned environmentalist and Native fishing advocate Billy Frank Jr. in Washington, D.C., passed the state Senate on a 44-5 vote Monday evening.
House Bill 1372 has now passed the state Legislature and moves on to the governor’s desk for signing. The bill has garnered bipartisan support through its passage in the state House and Senate, with many lawmakers providing moving testimony on the legacy of the late Nisqually Native American, and is very likely to become law.
The bill will place a statue of Frank Jr. in the National Statuary Hall Collection, where each state contributes two statues through their own legislative processes to be placed in the chamber located in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Frank Jr.’s statue would replace that of 19th century missionary Marcus Whitman, whose statue will likely be returned to Walla Walla County. Between 2001 and 2019, eight statues have been replaced by states at the Statuary Hall.
Washington state also holds a statue of Mother Joseph in the chamber, though the Whitman statue has been on display the longest since 1953.
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, as well as Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, both of whom have worked alongside Frank Jr. and the Nisqually Tribe, have given high praise for the legislation. Wilcox previously called Frank Jr. the “greatest man who was born in Washington.”
Billy Frank Jr., who died in 2014 at the age of 83, was a tireless advocate for native fishing rights, environmentalism, equality and justice. He was arrested more than 50 times for exercising his treaty-given rights to fish for salmon along the Nisqually River in an era deemed the Fish Wars. His actions — though viewed as rebellious at the time — would later be vindicated by the Boldt Decision.
He chaired the Northwest Indians Fisheries Commission for nearly 30 years, and he was instrumental in the founding of ecological groups that work today to protect the Nisqually River as well as the Puget Sound. His legacy lives on as a unifier who made sure all stakeholders had a seat at the table.
“Given the unrest and animosity that our country has experienced in the past few years, it is time that we recognize a peacemaker who worked to make Washington a better place for all of us and the shared natural resources on which we depend,” wrote Lorraine Loomis, current chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, in a recent column.
It’s very likely Gov. Jay Inslee will sign the bill into law. A spokesperson for the governor told The Olympian that he holds great respect for the late activist and has worked with Frank Jr. in the past, though would not give details on if he planned to sign the bill.