In the morning, Bellingham made good on their move to change the name of Indian Street to Billy Frank Jr. Street. Dozens came out to watch the old street signs come down and new ones honoring the treaty rights activist go up.
“He was a great Nisqually leader,” Bornemann said to the group. “He was a man who used both words and actions to fight for treaty and civil rights for his tribe and the greater Coast Salish people.”
Frank was not afraid to fight for his rights and the rights of others, Bornemann continued, citing the fact that Frank was arrested more than 50 times as he fought to have treaty rights recognized, upheld and enforced during the “Fish Wars” of the ’60s and ’70s.
That civil disobedience led to the Boldt decision in United States v. Washington, which affirms that treaty fishermen have the right to half the catch in the state.
Just hours later, the White House released a list of people that will be honored by President Obama next week with the Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian honor.
As usual, Joel Connelly had a particularly good perspective:
Frank was a Native American fishing rights advocate arrested 50 times on the Nisqually River, who became a champion of reconciliation with recognition that it was in everyone’s interest to bring back salmon runs that helped define the Northwest.
Frank died last year, and his friend Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., has pushed bipartisan legislation to rename the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge for its native champion.
Frank Hopper, writing in Indian Country Today:
The former outlaw held that position for 33 years, working ceaselessly to protect the rivers that fed his people from damage caused by industry and urban expansion. He won many awards, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award in 1990 and the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1992.
Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, was happy to hear about Billy receiving the Medal of Freedom. “It’s a fitting tribute from the country he tried all his life to make a more perfect union. He lost freedom, property, income, peace of mind and years off his life in the struggle for treaty fishing rights, and was ultimately proven right by the U.S. Supreme Court, by Congress and even by the state of Washington,” she said. “And he did it all with a beautiful smile, the kindest of words and a rare ability to make everyone he met feel better. He was a great man and he is missed, missed.”
Billy’s Medal of Freedom will officially be awarded next Tuesday, November 24.