Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge/Visit Olympia
A bill is before the Washington State Legislature to rename the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge after Billy Frank Jr.

National Wildlife Refuge Would Be Renamed for Billy Frank Jr.

Richard Walker

A congressman from Washington State has proposed renaming the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

RELATED: Tribal Rights Legend and Leader Billy Frank Jr. Walks On

Billy Frank Jr.: A World Treasure (1931 - 2014)

H.R.2270 was introduced by Representative Denny Heck, D-Vancouver, on May 12 and was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. The bill is co-sponsored by the entire state Congressional delegation; Congressional Native American Caucus co-chairs Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, and Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota; Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, and Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. Cole, Chickasaw, is one of two Native American members of Congress.

The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1974 to protect the Nisqually River Delta, a biologically rich and diverse area at the southern end of Puget Sound. In addition to renaming the wildlife refuge, the bill would make the location of the signing of the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty a national historic site and require the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to involve the Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Squaxin Island Tribes in the development of educational materials for the national historic site.

Heck titled the bill the Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act.

“When Billy Frank Jr. told his story, he was a fisherman trying to do what was right. But in the story of our state, he is a leader who inspired a movement for justice, and dedicated his life to collaborating with others in order to safeguard our environment for everyone,” Heck said in a statement issued by his office.

“When visitors come to the wildlife refuge, I want them to sense the spirit of Billy Frank Jr. and the work of all of the tribes to defend and preserve our beautiful land and resources. Without that context, the background and history of our area gets lost. This is a way to preserve not just the refuge, but also the stories surrounding it.”

Frank (1931–2014) was the longtime chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and a lifelong defender of treaty rights, sovereignty and salmon habitat. He was on the front lines in the campaign against state-imposed limits on Native treaty fishing, known as the Fish Wars, during the 1960s and ’70s, and organized “fish-ins” modeled after the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. Those efforts led to a 1974 federal court decision upholding Treaty Tribes’ rights to half of the fish harvest in Washington. The decision established Treaty Tribes and the State of Washington as co-managers of the state’s fishery.

In the Western Washington treaties signed in the mid-1850s, Native leaders made land available to the United States for settlement, but reserved certain lands and the right to fish, hunt and harvest “at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations.”

RELATED: The Fire That Was Billy Frank Jr.; Indian Country’s Greatest Defender

During his life, Frank was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.  As chairman of the fisheries commission, he worked to bring together local, state, federal and tribal officials to strengthen treaty rights and environmental protection laws. 

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