Friday, March 9, 2018

Billy Frank Jr. Park Dedicated in Olympia

Above: A community member listens to Robert Whitener, Squaxin Island tribal member and board member of Salmon Defense, at the naming dedication ceremony of a park and trail for Native American fishing and treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr. on Friday morning in Olympia.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“It’s good medicine for all of us to be here today,” said Nisqually Tribal Council member Willie Frank III.

Under a sunny sky overlooking Budd Inlet at the southernmost tip of Puget Sound, Frank acknowledged the beautiful day at the naming dedication of a half-acre park and trail for his father, Billy Frank Jr., on Friday morning.

The celebration was held on what would have been Frank’s 87th birthday. He passed away in 2014.

Following a public process and in collaboration with members of the Frank family, Port of Olympia commissioners recently approved the park renaming project.

The park, located on port property, is on Marine Drive near the KGY radio station and Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill Restaurant. Educational signs and native landscaping will be added to the site at a later date.

Above: Willie Frank III speaks at the dedication ceremony to name a piece of Port of Olympia property Billy Frank Jr. Park on Friday. 

Willie Frank III, members of the Frank family, Nisqually and Squaxin Island tribal council and members, local and state elected officials and community members were on hand at the event to remember Frank’s humor, tireless energy and fierce advocacy for Native fishing and treaty rights, environmental justice, and salmon recovery.

Acknowledging elders and members of the Nisqually Youth Council, a group formed just two weeks ago, Frank said the Tribe is carrying on for the next generation.

The best thing about his dad, he said, was his ability to bring everybody together.

“The purpose of this park is to serve as a…tool to educate the people of Thurston County, the State of Washington, and whoever comes to visit the area. We’ve been here since the beginning of time…and there’s just not enough history out there to educate people about the good things that our tribes bring to this area….

“I fully believe that he is with us here today, bringing our two tribes together, the Squaxin Island Tribe and the Nisqually Tribe….I hope with this park that we can…work on this project and move forward for the betterment of this area and for the people of this area,” he said.

Above: The Billy Frank Jr. Park and trail along Budd Inlet in Olympia.

Several speakers brought up current events and issues, such as the dam on the Deschutes River at Fifth Avenue in downtown Olympia.

“The Port of Olympia is honored to play a small role in celebrating Billy Frank Jr’s life and sharing this place with everyone….Let today be the start of our renewed commitment to restore this land and water to health, so that as the seas rise…salmon may run here again in great numbers and children may safely swim….Together we’ll work toward a better future for the grandchildren,” said Port of Olympia Commissioner E.J. Zita.

Robert Whitener, Squaxin Island tribal member and board member of Salmon Defense, a nonprofit Frank helped establish, wondered what Frank would have thought about current events.

“If Billy were here today, he wouldn’t be happy about the Hirst bill, he wouldn’t be happy about the culverts case….and Billy would be saying, “Why in the hell is there still a f-ing dam over there?!” The crowd burst into laughter.

Known as the Hirst decision, the Washington State Supreme Court in 2016 ruled that counties planning under the Growth Management Act must make their own determination on the availability of water before issuing a building permit for projects that use wells as a water source. In January, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation that “fixes” the decision.

Also in January, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it will hear a case in which the State of Washington could be required, at its own expense, to remove or repair hundreds of road culverts that block salmon from historic spawning habitat.

State Representative Laurie Dolan, 22nd District, Olympia, said that nothing is more important than the “right water policy” and she will work to stand strong with the tribes and collaborate with U.S. Congressman Denny Heck to obtain funding to replace the Nisqually bridge.

Senator John McCoy, 38th District, Tulalip, described a bill delivered to Governor Inslee earlier in the day in support of state-tribal education compact schools. The bill, SSB 6474, directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a pilot project for tribal compact schools that will accommodate cultural, fisheries, and agricultural events and replace graduation testing requirements with culturally relevant and community based standards.

“All of us elders need to be teaching our young…we have a lot of work to do…our work is never done – we just need to follow Billy’s example and we will get it done,” he said to applause from the crowd.

Chehalis tribal member Bonnie Bush, a grants administrator and basket weaver, is a great-niece of Billy Frank Jr. 

After the ceremony, she said she really never knew her great uncle, but the event reconnected her with family and friends and rejuvenated her spirit. 

Above: An intricate brooch made of beads and corn husks on the cedar hat of Chehalis Tribal member Bonnie Bush glimmered in the sunlight Friday morning.