Cantwell Introduces Bill to Create Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Billy Frank Jr. a “fierce guardian of the Puget Sound, the rights of tribes”

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) introduced legislation to honor the life of Billy Frank, Jr, a civil rights leader, environmental champion and Nisqually Tribal elder. The Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act would rename the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state as the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

The legislation also establishes as a part of the National Park System, the Medicine Creek Treaty National Memorial, at the location of the 1854 signing of the treaty. The bill would require the Department of Interior to coordinate with the Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Squaxin Island Tribes in the development of educational materials for the National Memorial.

“Billy Frank Jr. spent his life fighting for Treaty rights for tribes and Indian people that had long been denied.  He was a fierce guardian of our cherished salmon, the Puget Sound, and the rich natural diversity that is revered by all of us who call Washington state home. That’s why today, I introduced legislation to name the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge – a critical habitat for salmon, migratory birds and other wildlife – to honor Billy and his fight for the rights of his and all people,” said Senator Cantwell.

Earlier this year, a companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash) and received support of the entire Washington state Congressional delegation. The bill passed out of the House Committee of Natural Resources in October by unanimous consent. The bill is also supported by the National Congress of American Indians, the Affiliated Tribes of NW Indians, and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Read Senator Cantwell’s full remarks for the Congressional Record honoring Billy Frank, Jr:

“Mr. President, last year the Pacific Northwest, and the nation lost one of our greatest civil rights heroes with the passing of Billy Frank, Jr. It is clear a great leader has been lost when an entire community shows up to commemorate his life and celebrate his spirt. I attended Billy’s memorial, along with Senator Murray and 6,000 others, and was honored to have the chance to pay tribute to the man who fought for the civil rights of Native Americans, the principles of environmental stewardship, and the importance of salmon recovery and preservation in the Pacific Northwest.

“Today, I am introducing the Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act, which would change the name of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to the “Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.” In addition, this legislation would create a national memorial to commemorate the signing of the Medicine Creek Treaty, the treaty that Billy Frank fought so hard to enforce, within the refuge. The wildlife refuge sits adjacent to the Nisqually Reservation where Billy grew up and lived, and contains the estuary and salmon that Billy devoted his life to protecting.

“Billy Frank, Jr. just wanted to fish. He was a fisherman to his core, and that’s how he wanted history to remember him. Everyone who knew Billy would want us to remember him as the legend that walked – and fished – among us. Given his life, his legacy, and the way he changed Washington state and the nation, it is only right that we honor his legacy by forever linking his name to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

“Along with his advocacy for protecting Tribal treaty rights, Billy Frank changed the way we look at the environment. Because of his advocacy, we now have environmental restoration efforts throughout the Puget Sound, including at the Nisqually River Delta, the largest tidal marsh rehabilitation in the Northwest. Additionally, we have the Puget Sound Partnership, a Tribal and public-private partnership dedicated to improve the health of our Puget Sound. Billy understood that we have a sacred responsibility to be stewards of our environment, and that we must leave it for future generations in better condition than it was left to us.

“The Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act has the support of the Nisqually Tribe and the neighboring Puyallup Tribe, along with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. A companion bill introduced by Congressman Denny Heck has been approved by the House Natural Resources Committee and is awaiting consideration by the House. I urge its passage in the Senate, especially given the recent decision by President Obama to posthumously award Billy the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Billy grew up listening to the stories of his father and others belonging to the Nisqually and other Tribes. Routinely harassed for fishing his Tribe’s namesake Nisqually River with nets, Willie Frank, Sr. recalled a warden telling him, ‘Your treaty isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.’ Billy’s father always told him, ‘Just keep fishing. Even if they arrested you, just keep fishing. Even if they beat you just keep fishing. Keep fishing and claim what was promised in the in the Medicine Creek Treaty.’ By changing the name of the Nisqually wildlife refuge, we will not only honor the fisherman that fought to protect the land and its people, but we will make this land better than it was left to us, just like Billy Frank, Jr. would have wanted.

“Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.”