EDGE Community Engagement Manager Helps Rename Six Parks along Seattle's Duwamish River

A group of kayakers on the Duwamish River

BJ Cummings (lower right) leads a kayak tour of the Duwamish River.

EDGE Community Engagement Manager, BJ Cummings, helped the Port of Seattle rename six Duwamish River parks. 

For decades, public spaces along Seattle's Duwamish River have had names with numerical subjects like "Terminal 105 Park" and "Turning Basin #3." These names align with the Lower Duwamish Waterway's identity as an industrialized and polluted Superfund Site, but ignore the river's cultural and spiritual significance to the Salish peoples and downplay the vision that drives current efforts at clean-up and ecological restoration.

Now six of the parks have brand new names- four of them in Lushootseed, the language of the indigenous Salish people who have used the river for millennia. The Superfund Research Program’s Manager of Community Engagement, BJ Cummings, was on the stakeholder review committee that advised the Port of Seattle which owns the parks and is responsible for their naming.

“It was such an honor to serve alongside dedicated community advocates and representatives from our local indigenous nations in this highly participatory, democratic process to rename our river’s parks,” says Cummings. “The new park names really respect the river’s history, and reflect hope for its future.”

Rather than decide on name changes internally, the Port created a process of public involvement that took many months. During that time the public could interact with a website created by the Port with archival photos of the river, information about each park's history and conservation uses plus stories from community members and visitors. Around twelve thousand people engaged with the website, about 3,000 submitted nominations for potential park names, and about 1,500 voted on the three names chosen as finalists by the review committee.

In September, Cummings and others on the stakeholder review committee reviewed the potential park names that received the top public votes and made final name recommendations to the Port of Seattle. While the Port retained the right to make final decisions, they were careful to include stakeholders on the review committee that would represent the diversity of park users — from environmental stewards to tribal and cultural heritage experts to neighboring community members.

Cummings brought the perspective of a community leader with 25 years of experience advocating for clean-up of the Duwamish River and as the author of The River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish.

On October 27th the Port announced the six new names to be as follows:

• Terminal 105 Park was renamed t̓uʔəlaltxʷ Village Park & Shoreline Habitat (alternate spelling: Toolalt, pronounced something close to “t-oo-ah-lal-too-wx,” which literally means Herring’s House and represents a place where herring live and spawn — it’s also the the name of an old village site on the west bank of the Duwamish River).

• Terminal 107 Park’s became həʔapus Village Park & Shoreline Habitat (Westernized spelling: haapoos; it's pronounced “ha-ah-poos,” and is the name of a small stream draining across a flat on the west side of Duwamish River).

• Terminal 108 Park, or Park/Diagonal Public Access Site, is now called sbəq̓waʔ Park & Shoreline Habitat (sbaqwah, pronounced“s-bah-qwah,” is the Lushootseed word for the great blue heron, which is frequently found here).

• Terminal 117 Public Access and Shoreline Habitat is now called Duwamish River People’s Park & Shoreline Habitat.

• Turning Basin #3 will now be named Salmon Cove Park & Shoreline Habitat.

• The 8th Avenue South Street End has become the t̓ałt̓ałucid Park and Shoreline Habitat (alternate spelling: tathtathootseed, pronounced “t-ahth-t-ahth-oots-eed,” which means “where there is something overhead, across the path,” and refers to logs or branches located above a path or trail).

“Activating these place names will create a new era of understanding the Indigenous communities, our history, and our connection to the land,” wrote Cecile Hansen, the Duwamish Tribal Council Chairwoman, in a statement that was read during the announcement of the new names. “We pray that it will breed an opportunity to heal the relationships with one another as Indian people and to the citizens of the City of Seattle.”

Place names and Hansen's quote from the South Seattle Emerald.