Marking a milestone in Multnomah County’s relationship with Native American communities, the Board of Commissioners on Nov. 30 voted to unanimously accept a new name for the bridge that connects the community to Sauvie Island.
The bridge is now named Wapato Bridge, honoring a First Food for Native American communities in the region and fulfilling a recommendation brought to the Board by tribal leaders after months of consultation and outreach.
“My heart is big today,” said Corrine Sams, a Confederated Tribes of Umatilla board member and a member of the County’s Bridge Renaming Council.
The decision came one year after the Board first agreed to rename the bridge to honor Native American people. In November 2022, community members who serve on the County’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and Innovation recommended the Board rename the bridge to honor Native American communities whose traditional home includes Sauvie Island.
“That bridge goes to a special place,” said Lukas Angus, a Nez Perce tribal member and a member of the Bridge Renaming Council who first raised the renaming idea. “Historically for tribal people, it is a very large gathering spot for food gathering and trade. But also right now, today, it is still very important for a lot of agricultural production.”
Since the 2022 vote, the County convened a Bridge Renaming Council to bring a specific name recommendation forward — marking the County’s first-ever formal consultation process with tribal governments. After conducting outreach to multiple tribes, three tribes with historical ties to the island offered their expertise. The Council included appointed culture keepers, elders, tribal electeds and staff.
“It is our life’s work to continue to echo the words of our ancestors, not only for us today but for those that are yet unborn,” Sams said. “The significance of this project and this work is tremendous, not only for me, but for those that came before me and those that will come after.”
“Although we talk about this to a certain extent as something that is being done for the Portland Native community, I think it is important also to emphasize that this is something that in my view would have a great deal of benefit to all Portlanders, to all residents of Multnomah County, whatever their background,” said Peter Hatch, a Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians member and a Bridge Renaming Council member.
Beginning in April 2023, the Council conducted cultural research and worked with tribal communities to identify a recommended name for the bridge. The Council established a framework to guide its decision-making, focusing on traditional resources and land use, original villages and languages, as well as tribal elder and community voices.
“Through my office, the Office of Government Relations, and the Bridge Renaming Council, we were able to conduct one-on-one interviews with current Native-identifying island residents soliciting their input on the process, name ideas and important considerations the Bridge Renaming Council should hear as they move forward with identifying a name,” Allen said.
Leading up to the Board vote, commissioners shared their comments on the significance of centering the voices of Native American communities.
Chair Jessica Vega Pederson spoke to the importance of “Letting our partners in all of the different communities and tribal communities and nations really lead us in the work that we need to be doing as a government body.”