The Final Four: Bridge may receive Chinuk Wawa name

01.30.2014 Dean Rhodes Culture, History

PORTLAND -- Construction of the country's longest car-free bridge is going up over the Willamette River and the bridge might be christened with a Chinuk Wawa name.

On Wednesday, Jan. 15, Tri-Met and the Oregon Historical Society announced four potential names for the bridge, narrowing possibilities down from about 9,500 submissions. Unusual for the process was public input, a first in the Portland world of bridge naming.

In a coup for the Grand Ronde Tribe, Tribal Historian David Lewis was appointed in September to the nine-member Bridge Naming Committee responsible for paring down the thousands of candidates.

"With input from the Grand Ronde language program," Lewis said, the Tribe submitted one of the finalist names: Tillicum Crossing Transit Bridge, subtitled "Bridge of the People."

Grand Ronde Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor recommended to Tri-Met in early spring last year that the bridge "honor the original people of this place. The first people. The people who were here before the Europeans, before westward expansion and settlement, and all the growth and development that has transpired over the centuries.

"Name it after the people who welcomed the newcomers, who showed Lewis & Clark how to survive, who helped settlers make it through those first rough winters. Those people were rewarded by losing their lands, their rights and eventually their recognition as Tribal people. Give it a name that honors the original people of the Portland Basin. Name it after the people who make up today's Grand Ronde Tribe."

The Grand Ronde Tribe, Taylor said, would "come up with a name that would represent all that, but also make it a name that would embrace all of the Portland metro community."

"That's when David Lewis stepped in with his cultural and historic genius and came up with Tillicum Crossing," Taylor said. "The People's Bridge. I can't think of a better name. It names it for the ancestors; it names it for the Tribal people and all Native people today; and it names it for all of us Native and non-Native people who reside in the Portland area and will travel that bridge on a regular basis."

The Grand Ronde Tribe publicly endorsed the name and many Tribal members sent letters and e-mails in support during the decision-making process.

Tillicum, a Chinuk Wawa word for people, Tribe and relatives, also translates as "gathering of people," or in the bridge's case, Bridge of the People. The "crossing" part reflects both the Native experience in the area and the use of the bridge.

"It is very representative of use by people," Lewis said, "and it is connected by Tribal history and mythology with the nearby Bridge of the Gods."

The other three name finalists are Abigail Scott Duniway Transit Bridge, Cascadia Crossing Transit Bridge and Wy'east Transit Bridge.

Abigail Scott Duniway was known as the "the pioneer woman suffragist of the great Northwest," according to the Bridge Naming Committee.

Cascadia takes its name from the Cascade mountain range, a cross-border region of the Northwest. It also is associated with the Cascade Tribes, who are among the confederation that ultimately became the Grand Ronde Tribe, Lewis said.

Cascadia and Tillicum reflect the Native experience, but Indian linguists in Oregon have never heard of Wy'east being used by Native peoples.

People in the region have over many years come to associate Wy'east with both Mt. Hood and the Native peoples of the area, but linguists find no record of the word being Native.

According to Linguistic Anthropologist Henry Zenk, a Grand Ronde Tribal specialist with particular knowledge in Kalapuyan, Molalla, Chinookan, including Clackamas, Cascades and Wasco-Wishram languages, "The weight of evidence is against Wy'east as a genuine Tribal name of Mt. Hood."

Linguists specializing in the Sahaptin language also have not heard of Native use of the word. Sahaptin has long been spoken in a section of the northwestern plateau along the Columbia River and its tributaries in southern Washington, northern Oregon and southwestern Idaho.

The new bridge will serve bikes and pedestrians, including those with disabilities, light rail, buses and emergency vehicles, but no private cars. The bridge is 1,720 feet -- close to a third of a mile -- long.

Requirements for submitting names included information describing the proposed name's origin and meaning, the name's cultural and regional perspective, its inspirational quality, a reflection of how the bridge connects people, how the name rolls off the tongue and what the name will mean 100 years from now.

Bridge construction is scheduled for completion in 2014 and the bridge will open in 2015 when the last of the light rail and lighting systems are completed, and when light rail makes its first crossing.

The bridge connects west and east Portland south of the Marquam Bridge with a west side landing at John's Landing near the future site of Oregon Health & Science University's south waterfront campus, and near OMSI on the east side.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, in an open meeting at the Oregon Historical Society, bridge designer and architect Donald MacDonald and Bridge Naming Committee Chair Chet Orloff will describe the design and naming process.

How to vote

Comments on the four bridge name finalists are due by 5 p.m. Saturday, March 1, by visiting on the Internet. Tri-Met General Manager Neil McFarland will select the name soon thereafter.