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Congressman Denny Heck

Representing the 10th District of Washington

Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act heads to White House for President’s signature

Dec 15, 2015
Press Release
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Denny Heck adds Nisqually tribe leader and civil rights hero’s name to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Soon President Barack Obama is expected to sign the Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act into law, renaming the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge after the tribal leader and nationally known activist from the Pacific Northwest. The bill, H.R. 2270, advanced out of the House on November 30 by a vote of 413-2, and passed in the Senate on December 14 by unanimous consent.

“Billy didn’t wait for change, or demand change, he created change,” Rep. Denny Heck (WA-10) said. “He didn’t just talk about the pollution the salmon face, or how the water is unclean, he developed solutions and found ways to get things done.  This successful push to add his name to the cherished Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is a fitting tribute to a hero from the area who was never afraid of the work that goes behind every change we seek.”

 “Billy was key in the effort to return much of the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge to salmon habitat by breaching the dikes that once surrounded it,” Lorraine Loomis, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said. “He was proud of the hundreds of acres of new salmon habitat that were created. He would be especially pleased by the bill's provision to mark the site near the refuge where the Medicine Creek Treaty was signed on Dec. 26, 1854. Billy used to visit the site often to draw strength for his lifelong fight to preserve tribal cultures, treaty rights and natural resources. He continued to bring tribal leaders and other officials to this site and explain its importance.”

Before the House vote, Heck spoke on the House floor mentioning Billy’s advice to always “tell your story.” House cosponsors include the entire Washington state Congressional delegation, Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chairs Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Chair of Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Don Young (R-Alaska), and Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Earlier this month, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced companion Senate legislation, S. 2326, and President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Billy Frank Jr. the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying “his magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than 50 years made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad.”


Billy Frank Jr. was known as a tireless champion for treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, and salmon recovery. He was on the front lines in the campaign against state-imposed limits on tribal fishing, known as the Fish Wars in the 1960s and 1970s where he organized “fish-ins”—modeled after the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. Those efforts lead to the 1974 Boldt decision, which reaffirmed the Tribes’ rights to half of the fish harvest in Washington.

Billy Frank Jr. was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.  As chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC), Frank worked to bring together tribes, local, state, and federal officials to further strengthen treaty rights and environmental protection laws. 

The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1974 to protect the Nisqually River Delta, a biologically rich and diverse area at the southern end of Puget Sound.  While most major estuaries in the state have been filled, dredged, or developed, Nisqually River's has been set aside for wildlife.  Last year the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center was named after Congressman Norm Dicks, a friend of Billy Frank Jr. who pushed for federal support to complete the acquisition of the Refuge and protect the Nisqually Delta.

The Treaty of Medicine Creek, signed on December 26, 1854, established reservation land as well as the right to fish “at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations” for Puget Sound area tribes.