The new Billy Frank Jr. Street sign has finally been installed after a year in the works. On Monday, Nov. 16, Indian Street officially changed its name to celebrate the legacy of Billy Frank Jr., a prominent Coast Salish leader.
Frank Jr., was a member of the Nisqually tribe and an activist for fishing rights. He was taken into custody over 50 times fighting for Native fishing rights, according to Time Magazine.
Frank was also involved in the “fish wars”of the northwest, a historic civil rights battle involving multiple tribes in the Pacific Northwest.
City council member Terry Bornemann, one of the council members who passed the motion for the project in June, hoped renaming one of the main streets leading to Western would bring awareness to Frank Jr.’s work.
“I think it’s important that people learn about his legacy,” Bornemann said.
Elden Hillaire, chairman of the Lummi Nation natural resources industries commission, worked with Frank Jr. for 18 years.
“[Renaming the sign] is another way to remember him and to keep his message going,” Hillaire said.
During initial talks of the project, Bornemann expressed that he wanted the street name to be inclusive of all Native American tribes in the area.
Suggestions for new names included civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., but Bornemann felt it would be better to honor a prominent Native American activist.
Vernon Johnson, a political science professor at Western, suggested Indian Street be renamed after Frank, as stated in a previous The Western Front article.
All residents of Indian Street were notified of the name change.
Senior Natalie Arsheed has lived on the street for two years. She was notified of the change by email from her landlords, and said she was shocked at the late notification of the name change.
“I wish they would have let us know in advance because my roommate and I had ordered things online and I don’t know if that’s going to slow down the process for things we need,” Arsheed said.
She didn’t know who Frank was at first, and was confused as to why they were naming a street after him, she said. But after some research, she learned more about his history with Bellingham and liked the change.
“I think it’s a great thing that they’re doing. This person has history for Bellingham. I can see why they’re doing it, and I totally respect it,” Arsheed said.