Marysville schools are also launching a district-wide unit on Frank who fought for Native American rights
Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary will again celebrate the life of the late Indigenous Washington activist Billy Frank Jr. in March, along with most students in the Marysville School District.
The elementary has held a week of honoring Frank since 2018 when the Washington state legislature named his birthday, March 9, as an official day of remembrance.
“Billy Frank is a Nisqually tribal member who began the Fish Wars when he was fishing in his accustomed territory,” said Chelsea Craig, cultural specialist with the Marysville School District. “At that time Washington state didn’t recognize our tribal fishing rights and he was arrested more than 50 times."
The protests known as the Fish Wars continued throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“There were times when all of the men would be in jail and the women would then keep fishing,” said Craig. “The same thing was happening in our territory.”
Eventually tribes sued the state and won sovereignty rights, as well as joint management of natural resources of the state.
Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary school has been making an effort the last few years to honor Billy Frank Jr. during March.
“We serve the Tulalip Tribes on the reservation and often times we don’t see our own people in our books, in our curriculum and we always want to learn more, but there’s always this feeling that we don’t have time,” said Craig.
The March date is near Dr. Seuss’ birthday.
“I made a challenge to the staff here that if we can spend a week studying Dr. Seuss, we can spend a week studying Billy Frank Jr.,” she said.
The staff there swapped out their usual events celebrating the children’s book author for the Native American activist.
“They absolutely stepped up and we had a whole week of celebrations,” said Craig. “It has been absolutely amazing. Our kids have been so excited and interested. Our teachers have really rallied around celebrating an Indigenous leader in a school system that doesn’t always tell our story.”
This year Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary is going virtual with the unit.
“Every year since then we’ve made the same dedication that has turned into a month-long study this year,” said Craig. “Our goal is to have tribal members and guests share their stories about Billy Frank.”
This year the district plans to launch a district-wide unit to honor Billy Frank Jr. in the other schools as well, which was launched beginning on March 5.
“We’re extending our work we’ve been doing at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary to the district,” she said.
Craig said she is happy that a local Native American leader is getting more recognition in local schools.
“I’ve been teaching in Marysville for 20 years and I was a student as well and we don’t always get to hear our stories and our histories incorporated in the learning,” she said. “The power of hearing about Indigenous people, not only from today but in the past, counteracts the stereotype threat from the exclusion of our people from the people.”