Mar 15, 2023 - News

Plans for Billy Frank Jr. statue at U.S. Capitol move ahead

Billy Frank Jr. stands at a podium with the state of Washington seal at the state Capitol, with his right hand raised.
Billy Frank Jr. Photo: Washington State Archives

Billy Frank Jr., the late Nisqually environmental leader and treaty rights activist, is one step closer to representing Washington state at the U.S. Capitol.

What's happening: An artist has been chosen to design a statue of Frank that will soon be placed in National Statuary Hall.

  • The monument to Frank, who fought to defend tribal fishing rights, will replace one of Marcus Whitman, a murdered missionary whose legendary heroism has now been challenged and, to some degree, debunked.

Catch up quick: Washington lawmakers voted two years ago to swap the Whitman statue with one of Frank.

  • The protests, or "fish ins," that Frank helped lead in the 1960s and 1970s paved the way for the 1974 Boldt decision, which affirmed that tribes were entitled to half the yearly fish harvest.
  • Before the decision, Frank was arrested dozens of times for standing up for the treaty-protected rights of tribes to fish in their usual and accustomed places.

Context: Each state is represented by two statues inside the U.S. Capitol. The Frank statue will be one of Washington's two contributions after the Whitman statue is removed.

  • The other is of Mother Joseph, a Catholic missionary who built schools and hospitals.

What they're saying: Willie Frank III, Frank's son and the current chair of the Nisqually Tribe, told Axios that erecting a statue of his father in the U.S. Capitol honors what Frank stood for — treaty rights and tribal sovereignty — and sends a powerful message "for every tribe throughout the United States and Indigenous people all over the world."

  • The statue will likely include an inscription written in both English and Lushootseed, and will be a valuable tool for "teaching kids to tell our story," Willie Frank III said.

What's next: The artist, Haiying Wu, is expected to spend this year consulting with Nisqually tribal members and working on models of the statue, which will then be constructed and finalized next year.

  • The statue is expected to be installed in Washington, D.C. toward the end of 2024, said Michael Wallenfels, a spokesperson for the state Arts Commission.

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