Priest Point Park now Squaxin Park

Park signs will be written in both English and Lushootseed

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Olympia’s city council unanimously approved a resolution renaming Priest Point Park to Squaxin Park April 25, Monday in recognition of the Squaxin Island Tribe’s historical habitation of Olympia.

Two of the Squaxin Island Tribe’s representatives thanked the city council for bringing back the park’s natural and cultural resources stewardship to their tribe during the city council meeting.

In renaming it Squaxin Park, the resolution stated, “a native name for the park will reflect its deeper history and enduring cultural significance, and appropriately acknowledge the Squaxin Island Tribe’s continued and valued presence in our community.”

“While the City of Olympia recognizes the historical efforts by the Catholic priests who established the mission at what subsequently became known as Priest Point Park, it is important to rename Priest Point Park to serve as a reminder that the land on which the park is located was home to the Steh‐Chass people long before it served as a mission or became a park,” added in the resolution.

For Squaxin Island Tribe council Chairman Kris Peters, the approval of the resolution forged a friendship between the tribe and the Olympia people.

“Thank you for the partnership that we have forged over the years. We have done so much great work being stewards of this land,” Peters said.

Charlene Krise, vice-chair of the Squaxin Island Tribal Council and director of the Squaxin Island Museum, Library and Research Center, reiterated that her people had inhabited the area for thousands of years.

Krise said the land, which her people and ancestors have inhabited for centuries, is important to them because it carries many stories and legends – with a lot of roots and depth to it – about their people.

“We never stopped loving the land because it is one of the greatest teachers. Whenever you step out in the great outdoors, you are stepping into the greatest classroom the Creator has ever given to all mankind,” Krise said, adding “you need to be ready to listen and watch.”

Mayor Pro Tem Clark Gilman said this is a “time of trying to put things right.” He said the resolution strengthens the relationship [with] and recognizes the Squaxin Island people.

For Councilmember Jim Cooper, the resolution shows “telling the real history of our land long before many of us and our ancestors were even thinking about coming here.”

Squaxin Park history

According to Parks director Sylvana Niehuser, Priest Point Park was named after a small group of French Catholic missionaries, of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who came to the area in 1848.

It was the same land the Squaxin Tribe inhabited for thousands of years.

The priests cleared the land, planted a large garden, built a chapel, and established St. Joseph d’Olympia mission, which operated for 12 years until 1860.

Father Pascal Ricard of the Oblates filed a donation land claim encompassing the mission site and the current parklands totaling 324 acres. When he fell ill in 1857, Ricard left the mission; it closed in 1864. The land was turned into a park in 1905.Washington State deeded the tidelands to the city in 1907 on the condition that they were used for park purposes.

On March 17, 2022, the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee (PRAC) held a public hearing and solicited public feedback on the proposal of renaming the park to “Squaxin Park.”

“Written comments were mostly in favor of renaming the park,” Niehuser said, adding it led to the PRAC voting unanimously to recommend Priest Point Park as “Squaxin Park” to the city council, which approved the resolution.

What’s next?

Niehuser said the first step is to work together with the tribe members to work on the monument signage and name the park's trails and landmarks.

Niehuser told the committee in an April 21 meeting that the department is planning on reaching out to Squaxin Island Tribe to collaborate with them on the visual plan for the park.

One changes are the park wood signs, which Niehuser said would be written in Lushootseed, a language spoken by the tribe.

“I think there is an opportunity to collaborate [with the tribe] that would honor their culture. I also want to get the spelling of how they would like…because we will put Lushootseed,” she said, adding, “we want to get that from the tribe directly.”

Part of the plan is also to engage Arts program manager Stephanie Johnson to talk about the possibility of putting some public arts in the park, followed by updating the Park department’s website and the map.

Comments

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  • Deskandchairs

    Changing the name of parks is about the only thing the Olympia city council is capable of accomplishing.

    Wednesday, April 27 Report this

  • Olywelcomesall

    It is good to have this park named for the people who lived and took care of the area for so many centuries. Thank you Squaxin Tribe for suggesting the name change and to City of Olympia council, staff and citizens for supporting the change. You all have a lot of other important things on your list to do, so glad you took the time to do this name change.

    Wednesday, May 4 Report this