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Washington may replace statue at US Capitol with one of Native American activist

In a proposal, a statue of Native American activist Billy Frank Jr. in the US Capitol would replace one of missionary Marcus Whitman.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington might have a new statue representing the state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. State lawmakers are proposing replacing the statue of missionary Marcus Whitman with one of Native American activist Billy Frank, Jr.

Frank, who died in 2014, received the U.S. Medal of Freedom and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

He fought the U.S. government over fishing rights that had been guaranteed to Native Americans under treaties signed between tribes and the federal government.

A National Wildlife Refuge site near Olympia is named after Frank, who was a member of the Nisqually Tribe.

Credit: KING
Billy Frank Jr.

Marcus Whitman was a physician and missionary who introduced Native Americans to Christianity in areas of what is now eastern Washington in the mid-1800s. Whitman’s mission near Walla Walla is now a National Historic Site.

According to historical accounts, eleven members of the Cayuse tribe killed Whitman and other settlers after he was blamed for a measles outbreak that killed half the tribe. 

Whitman's statue has been on display in Statuary Hall in the nation’s Capitol since 1953.

Bill sponsor Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Skagit Valley, said the state should preserve Whitman’s statue but that it's time for a change in the state’s representation at the U.S. Capitol.

“We honor the past. We recognize today, and we build the future. And Billy has always built the future for us. The honor, he brings the respect he brings, especially during a time of COVID and a time of healing, this is who Billy is. And he has a way of bringing everyone together,” Lekanoff said.

The proposal had a public hearing Monday and no one testified against the bill.

Frank's son, Willie Frank, III, now a tribal council member with the Nisqually Tribe, said having his father’s statue in Washington, D.C., would be a great accomplishment.

“To think that this young Nisqually boy who grew up his whole life being arrested for exercising his treaty rights and his tribal sovereignty, to protect our way of life, to think that that that'll be there to represent the state is amazing,” he said.