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Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge renamed for activist Billy Frank Jr.

NISQUALLY, Washington – Dancers and drummers from the Nisqually Tribe perform at the renaming of the national wildlife refuge for the late tribal activist Billy Frank Jr. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
NISQUALLY, Washington – Dancers and drummers from the Nisqually Tribe perform at the renaming of the national wildlife refuge for the late tribal activist Billy Frank Jr. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Native American activist Billy Frank Jr. spent his life protecting the Nisqually Basin and the South Puget Sound. On Tuesday, part of that land and water will extend Frank’s legacy for years to come.

The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation’s largest restored estuaries, was officially renamed for Frank in a ceremony that drew the leaders of his and the surrounding tribes as well as members of Congress and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Although Frank died two years ago, several speakers quoted the old proverb that a person dies a second time when no one speaks their name again. By that standard, Frank won’t die that second death as people come to the refuge, they said.

“His legacy lives on,” Jewell said. That legacy includes fighting for treaty rights, restoring salmon and protecting the ecosystem of the Puget Sound, she said.

The refuge, established in 1974, has grown to more than 7,400 acres and gets about a quarter-million visitors a year. Workers continue to restore the area surrounding the mouth of the Nisqually River to its natural state, removing dikes and roadways to renew the estuary.

Late last year, Congress passed a law renaming the refuge for Frank and creating a national memorial at nearby Medicine Creek, where the first treaty was signed in 1854 between the U.S. government and Northwest tribes – the Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Puyallup and Squaxin Island.

It was the basis for other treaties that promised the tribes they could maintain their traditions, which became pivotal when a federal court ruled in the landmark Boldt Decision that Native American fishermen, like Frank, were within their rights to fish off the reservation for salmon.

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