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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Indian Street to be renamed after Billy Frank Jr.

The Bellingham City Council voted unanimously to change the name of Indian St. to Billy Frank Jr. St. in honor of the Nisqually tribe member who fought for the rights of Native Americans.  Photo by Alexandra Bartick
The Bellingham City Council voted unanimously to change the name of Indian St. to Billy Frank Jr. St. in honor of the Nisqually tribe member who fought for the rights of Native Americans. Photo by Alexandra Bartick

The Bellingham City Council voted unanimously in favor of renaming Indian Street to Billy Frank Jr. Street, a Nisqually tribe member and environmental and treaty rights activist.

During a city council meeting on Monday, June 15, council members Terry Bornemann and Roxanne Murphy motioned to go forward with the process to implement the street name change.

“We have not honored the First Nation leaders, so I started working with some of the members of the Lummi Nation about looking at appropriate names for a street name,” City Councilmember Terry Bornemann said.

Bornemann said he didn’t want to choose a leader from a single nation and instead wanted the name to be inclusive of all the Native American tribes in the surrounding area.

“And then it came to me about Billy Frank Jr., whom I have met a few times. And he was one of the biggest civil rights, human rights, treaty rights people among the Coast Salish tribes here.”

Vernon Johnson, a political science professor at Western, then suggested that Indian Street should be renamed.

“I caught the bus up to campus for years, [and] I still do. It just seems like Indian Street was just too generic, [so] why not name it after a famous Indian?” Johnson said. “Why just call it Indian Street? It felt mildly offensive to me, and it felt like appropriation.”

A citizen originally made the suggestion to the city council to implement a street name that honored a civil rights leader, like Martin Luther King Jr., but Bornemann said he felt it was more appropriate to honor an activist who worked to fight for the rights of Native Americans.

“He was a Nisqually tribe member, and he was instrumental in getting the current treaties on fishing rights upheld through the Boldt decision,” Bornemann said.

The Boldt decision was a native rights decision reached by Judge Boldt that gave tribal members fishing rights along the Puget Sound area, he said.

His passion and dedication for his work had him arrested many times due to the activism and protests he led during the Fish Wars throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Bornemann said. He died May 4, 2014 in Nisqually, WA.

Wilson said the estimated cost surrounding the project ranges from $20,000 to $30,000 of taxpayer dollars. This cost would include replacing the street signs as well as sending the letters out to residents.

Now that the council has voted all in favor of the decision to rename Indian Street, Bornemann said the next step would be to work with Rob Wilson, a Bellingham firefighter who heads the committee that oversees street names and naming.

Wilson said that the 147 addresses residing along Indian Street will be notified with a letter of pending action within the next two weeks and will be given the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Bellingham Hearing Examiner. If any appeals are accepted to be examined, they will be considered before the council finalizes their decision. Public commentary will be available to anyone interested.

“[Residents] have an opportunity to appeal to the Bellingham Hearing Examiner and once that process has gone through and if there are any appeals that are accepted or any appeals that are made, then it goes to a letter of final action or a final notice that the street name is going to happen,” Wilson said. “Then we move forward with deciding a date when that’s going to happen and then we go ahead with the process of putting up the street signs.”

Few businesses reside along Indian Street and many of the properties are occupied by students. Seth Ceely, a political science major and senior at Western, has lived on Indian Street for about a year now.

Ceely said he feels Indian Street is iconic and well known to Western students due to its connection to campus, and that changing the street name to something so lengthy could take getting used to. At the same time, Ceely said he thinks that changing the name would help educate people and spread awareness of the work Billy Frank Jr. did.

“I think it’s a good idea to honor the heritage of a person who contributed positively to society and social change,” Ceely said.

After the letters of pending action are sent out, which will happen by the end of July, and any appeals made are settled, a final notice will be sent to residents that the city will go through and replace the street signs.

A date has not been set to when the change will occur as there is still further action that needs to be taken.

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