The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, Nov. 17, accepted a recommendation to rename the Sauvie Island Bridge.
“As white settlers forcibly stole the land and the waterways, they used the languages and names of their choices to reflect the story that they wanted to tell,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “But today, here in Multnomah County, we find ourselves with a historic opportunity to support Indigenous efforts to heal, to reflect the truth of the land, and to reclaim both narrative and physical space for those who have always been here.”
The unanimously adopted resolution sets in motion the process to rename the Sauvie Island Bridge to honor the communities whose traditional home includes the island. The bridge is currently named after a European dairy farmer who, according to the resolution, “capitalized on the loss of Indigenous life.”
The recommendation to rename the bridge was originally proposed in a letter from the Advisory Committee on Sustainability and Innovation (ACSI). Established under the Multnomah County Office of Sustainability, ACSI is composed of community members who have a range of expertise on sustainability-related issues that affect the community, environment and the economy. ACSI provides the Board of Commissioners an annual letter with recommendations to Multnomah County on such issues affecting the community.
Weetska Ilp Ilp, meaning Red Spike Elk, and whose English name is Lukas Angus, is a member of the Nez Perce tribe and serves on ACSI. He shared with the Board that renaming the bridge “is one small thing, but it is a big perspective change,” adding that the change is overdue.
Multnomah County’s Director of Sustainability, John Wasiutynski, credited Sustainability Coordinator Knowledge Murphy for leading the effort to diversify the voices on the committee and helping to “think about how we repair past harms in order to move the community forward towards a future that is just for everyone.”
ACSI Vice-chair Amanda Zuniga said the committee's subject matter experts range from those who have technical expertise, to those who demonstrate passion, life experience and leadership on matters of sustainability. The committee’s recommendation to rename the bridge came from ACSI’s Food and Water Subcommittee, which in the letter “called for the decolonization of waterways and food sources.”
“This is why we’re here today,” said Zuniga.
The renaming of the Sauvie Island Bridge will honor and bring awareness to the Island’s Native American history, communities, culture and land, she continued.
The resolution acknowledges that Sauvie Island was a home to the Chinook people, where more than 2,000 Indigenous people and 15 villages found safety and sustainability until colonization. White settlers arrived with “violence, illness, and a capitalist mindset” and began remapping and renaming Indigenous land.
The resolution goes beyond accepting the recommendation; it also appoints the Tribal Affairs Advisor, a brand new position in the County’s Office of Government Relations, to establish a process to rename the bridge. Chair Kafoury announced during her remarks that Anna Marie Allen was recently selected to fill the role.
Allen, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe from the Fort Hall Reservation, will work with the community, Sauvie Island residents, community-based organizations and Tribal communities to identify culturally significant name options for the bridge.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran said the Board’s acceptance of the resolutions is a tangible action that will honor and celebrate the Indigenous people of the land, past and present, “and bring greater visibility and attention to them and their connection to the lands.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said the renaming of the bridge would be an opportunity to “acknowledge the history and the participation of culture that has been ignored and purposefully shut down,” and looked forward to the renaming of the bridge.
“We get to talk about racial injustices, the colonization,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann, “but moreover, we get to do something about it.”
Commissioner Stegmann also thanked the community for “making sure that Multnomah County is founded on the principles that we say we are and for really living that truth.”
Chair Kafoury thanked ACSI for bringing forward a recommendation that is implementable, and looked forward to the final stage of renaming the bridge.
“Indigenous place names are really powerful vehicles for narrating history and for inscribing our landscape with meaning,” she said. “When we as a community can come up with a new name, the right name, it will provide critical awareness of Indigenous history and culture by recognizing the connection between language and land while honoring the people that have always been there.”