Olympia community members attended the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meeting to advocate for the proposed renaming of Priest Point Park to Squaxin Park yesterday.
Parks Planning & Maintenance Director Sylvana Niehuser explained that the renaming process followed Olympia Municipal Code 12.62.50 and 12.62.60 which set the guidelines and process on renaming public parks.
“I want to point out that this is a recommendation from one government entity to another government entity,” clarified Niehuser, “and that happens to be the Squaxin Island Tribal Council recommending the name to the city of Olympia.”
Squaxin Island Tribal Council Vice Chairperson Charlene Krise related how the area known as Priest Point has been inhabited for thousands of years. And while the Squaxin never considered the land their property, Krise asserted that they have “never stopped loving the land.”
“We still carry the stories, the legends, the history that's associated to the area,” said Krise, who is also director of the Squaxin Island Museum, Library & Research Center.
Krise went on to tell how the federal government paid religious groups to evangelize the local Natives, who converted to Christianity “in good faith,” and how they eventually lost possession of their lands.
All community members who spoke during the meeting gave positive remarks on the proposed renaming as an act of reparation to the natives who were displaced from their lands.
“Using the original names of our local environment seems the least we can do to honor the original stewards of the land,” said Jim Grant.
“The ways we name things are important and frequently symbolic of more than a literal word,” shared Kathy Baros Friedt. “Renaming isn't reparation by a longshot for land taken, but is a commitment in truth telling.”
Some attendees went further by suggesting that the park itself be turned over to the Squaxin tribe.
“Please begin the process of exploring returning stewardship of Squaxin Park back to the Squaxin tribe,” pleaded Rev. Corey Parsons. “And may the renaming of this park be both a celebration and a reminder of the unfinished work of reparation.”
Niehuser reported earlier in the meeting that the land currently known as the City of Olympia was originally inhabited by the Steh-Chass people who lived along the shores of Puget Sound, and that the name Priest Point came when Pascal Ricard of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the Pacific Northwest claimed 324 acres of his congregation’s mission site and what is now the park.
The priests closed the mission in 1860 and was bought by the city in 1905 for $1,200.
“During this time, the indigenous people were oppressed and forcefully removed from the area,” said Niehuser, “and in 1854, approximately 530 Native Americans were moved to Squaxin Island.”