Story at a glance

  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill to replace a state statue with one of Billy Frank Jr.
  • Frank Jr. was an environmental and tribal rights activist.
  • In 2015, former President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a posthumous nomination.

The statue of a noted Native American environmental activist will soon stand in the U.S. Capitol as Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a measure to install a statue of Billy Frank Jr.

Frank Jr. died in 2014. He was a member of the Nisqually Tribe and was an environmental and treaty rights activist. 

Inslee signed House Bill 1372 on Wednesday, which will install a statue of Frank in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. He signed the bill at the 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 commented.

 

 

The new statue of Frank will replace one of the two current statues, Marcus Whitman. Whitman was a missionary who led early American settlements. He notably worked to convert Native Cayuse people to Christian teachings despite lacking theological training.

He was killed in an altercation with Cayuse individuals. He was described as “culturally arrogant” in the Oregon state encyclopedia.

Frank reportedly worked to protect fisheries and natural habitats, advocating for tribal fishing rights. 

“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. Debra Lekanoff (D), the sponsor of HB 1372 and the sole 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.”

The National Statuary Hall featured 100 historical figures, with two representing each state. 

Some of the other statues of Native or Indigenous Americans are King Kamehameha I from Hawaii; Sarah Winnemucca from Nevada; Sequoyah from Oklahoma; Washakie from Wyoming; Po’pay from New Mexico; and Chief Standing Bear from Nebraska. 


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Published on Apr 16, 2021