Seattle’s waterfront park to reflect region’s rich tribal heritage

Seattle officials are reaching out to local Indian tribes as they develop ideas for a planned remake of the Seattle waterfront.

University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Negative No. NA897In this photo from 1891, dugout canoes are moored at a boat launch at the foot of South Washington Street in Seattle. The scene shows the continuing influence of Native American culture on the fast-growing young city, despite the presence of discrimination aimed at local tribes.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Negative No. NA897
In this photo from 1891, dugout canoes are moored at a boat launch at the foot of South Washington Street in Seattle. The scene shows the continuing influence of Native American culture on the fast-growing young city, despite the presence of discrimination aimed at local tribes.


By Lynn Thompson, Seattle Times


Translated from the native Lushootseed language, the downtown Seattle waterfront was known as “Little Crossing Over Place.”

Canoes tied up at the foot of South Washington Street. Longhouses hosted seasonal encampments. The Duwamish clammed on the tide flats, caught salmon in Elliott Bay and netted ducks north of what’s now Belltown.

Seattle is named for the Native American chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes who recruited settlers to boost the town’s population and economic viability. His signature on the Point Elliott Treaty ceded the lands that would become the city in exchange for benefits tribal members mostly did not receive.

Now, with the Alaskan Way Viaduct slated for demolition and the city planning for a new waterfront park from Pioneer Square to the Olympic Sculpture Park, city officials have begun reaching out to local Indian tribes to involve them in the design and to incorporate their history and culture into the finished park.

“We want tribes to be partners. We want tribes to have a stake and a place in this project,” said Marshall Foster, the city’s waterfront design manager.

Involving the tribes and finding ways to tell their histories also could go a long way to answering critics who say the early design drawings seem too polished, more like San Diego than Seattle.

“What will make the waterfront authentic? This is one element that’s adding a layer of richness,” Foster said.

Coll Thrush, author of “Native Seattle,” said tribal people were essential to the creation of the city as laborers, housekeepers and traders.

But, he added, one of the first laws adopted when the city incorporated in 1865 made it illegal for natives to live here unless they were employed and housed by a white person.

Despite the presence and contributions of tribal members throughout the city’s development, he said, the history of natives also has included dispossession and discrimination, and the sense by many contemporary Indians that they really aren’t welcomed here.

“It’s a deeply conflicted place,” Thrush said.

Seattle-area tribes had extensive involvement in permitting for the new waterfront seawall, currently under construction along Alaskan Way, because their treaty rights give them legal standing to review potential impacts to salmon migration.

But the city hadn’t reached out to the tribes about the new waterfront park plans until Mayor Ed Murray took office in January and created an Office of the Waterfront to coordinate the $1 billion in proposed investments that include the seawall, the currently stalled excavation of the Highway 99 tunnel, the viaduct removal and design of the new park where Alaskan Way now runs.

“We had to encourage them to reach out to us,” said Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish tribe at the Port Madison Reservation on the Kitsap Peninsula.

And there still isn’t a tribal representative on the 45-member Central Waterfront Committee, the group of civic leaders who have advised the city on its planning and design development over the past two years, though city officials say they plan to rectify that.

Since April, city leaders and lead designers from James Corner Field Operations have met with the Suquamish, Muckleshoot and Stillaguamish tribes and toured Daybreak Star Cultural Center at Discovery Park.

In September, they plan to host a session for interested urban Indians. The Duwamish, who still are seeking federal recognition, have been included.

Forsman said it’s critical that the waterfront design reflect not just the tribes’ past, but their continued presence and strong ongoing connections to the city and Elliott Bay.

“It’s important that we recognize the spiritual connection the tribes have with the places in this landscape even though it’s been heavily urbanized,” Forsman said. “We need to remember that through our casino, our fishing, our geoduck harvesting, our continued work to protect habitat, these places — Puget Sound, Elliott Bay and the Duwamish River — remain important to us.”

Forsman said Suquamish tribal leaders and elders, in their meeting with the city planning and design team at Port Madison, expressed their desire for a culturally appropriate outdoor gathering space, something not exclusively for tribal use, but that could host traditional ceremonies and events such as the annual Salmon Homecoming celebration now held in conjunction with the Seattle Aquarium.

He said the tribes also are interested in ways they can tell their own stories and their history both before and after contact with Europeans.

How those goals might be reflected in the design, he said, is up to the planners.

“We told them our needs. Their job is to come up with the expression.”

Members of the design team said they’re still listening, gathering ideas from the tribes and trying to understand how native people might use the new public spaces that could be developed along the waterfront.

Tatiana Choulika, a lead designer with James Corner, said she was struck, in their visit to the Suquamish, by a large carving of a canoe being carried on the shoulders of six life-size tribal figures, both contemporary and mythic. She said the carving suggested the strong value of teamwork and the flow of tradition from an ancient past to young tribal members today.

In their meeting with the Muckleshoot Tribe, she said, she was impressed by their elder center, health-care clinic and offices for managing hunting, fishing and wildlife resources. She said the Muckleshoot expressed an interest in building a Salish cultural center on the waterfront. The closest thing Seattle has now is the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus.

Choulika said she also realized that the history of the Seattle waterfront is more than the 160 years since the landing of the Denny party, that it’s always been a port and a gathering place, a multilingual, multicultural mixing spot.

“Once it was all the tribes of the Salish Sea; now it’s people from all over the world. How do we communicate this in the design of the new waterfront?” Choulika asked.

Nicole Willis, the city tribal relations director, organized and attended the outreach sessions with the tribes. She said she was impressed with the design team’s seriousness in learning about native culture.

“It’s really pretty amazing. They’re only out here from New York for a few days every month and they’ve devoted entire days to visiting reservations, hearing stories, hearing from tribal elders, hearing interpretations of tribal structures and how the tribes choose to represent themselves.”

Willis said Seattle is one of the few American cities where native art, images and people are visible. The Seahawks’ logo is based on a Kwakwaka’wakw transformation mask carved on Vancouver Island. Seattle manhole covers feature a Tlingit orca whale. Totem poles stand in Pioneer Square and Steinbrueck Park, though she notes that totems were the art of northern coastal Indians and not traditionally carved around Puget Sound.

But Willis also mentioned the shooting of First Nations carver John T. Williams in 2010 by a Seattle police officer. She said that’s also part of the history of Indians in Seattle, some of whom feel that they aren’t welcomed or wanted.

What she heard in the listening sessions with the tribal members, she said, was how important the Seattle waterfront had been to them. It was a center for trade, a gathering place, a home.

Willis said, “The overarching theme is they want to feel welcomed and comfortable and that they want to have a presence there again. The waterfront can be a project that renews that sense of belonging.”

Lynn Thompson: or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes

Information in this article, originally published Aug. 21, 2014, was corrected Aug. 22, 2014. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Seahawks mascot was based on a Kwakwaka’wakw transformation mask. The story should have said the Seahawks logo was based on the mask.

M’ville hires consultant to clean waterfront, help decide its future

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring hopes someday this waterfront area will be something special for the city.— image credit: Steve Powell
Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring hopes someday this waterfront area will be something special for the city.
— image credit: Steve Powell


By Steve Powell, Marysville Globe


MARYSVILLE – Imagine the city’s waterfront filled with classy restaurants, a boardwalk and boutiques. Or how about condominiums and a casino? Wouldn’t a park with a stage for concerts and plays be nice?

What, you didn’t even know Marysville has a waterfront? It doesn’t look like much now, but city officials hope it will be something special in the future.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said it’s part of the Downtown Revitalization vision, which includes the recently completed and widely popular Spray Park.

“We want a vibrant downtown that’s generating income and where everybody has jobs,” Nehring said, adding the goal is to have private enterprise build up the waterfront.

The downtown master plan calls for a waterfront trail and mixed use of business and living space on the property south of Penny’s.

Four years ago the city bought the former Ed and Susan Geddes five-acre marina at 1326 1st St. for $1.9 million. It took four years to decide on a price, as the Geddeses filed suit against the city due to surface water flowing into the marina. Bill Geddes had owned the property in the 1930s as   a retention pond for a lumber mill.

The city has been applying for grants to clean up the site for years.

The city was awarded a $200,000 hazardous substances cleanup Brownsfield grant from the Environmental Protection Agency Oct. 1 of last year. A month later it received an Integrated Planning Grant from the state Department of Ecology for a similar amount. It has hired Maul Foster Alongi Consultants for $304,000 for a contract that runs from July 15, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2017.

Past activities at the location, including painting, boat sanding and fuel and oil storage and handling, likely contaminated the site with arsenic, cadmium and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In addition, stormwater discharge from the adjacent mill site has likely caused some of the contamination.

The property was historically used as a marina, but the city has stopped renewing leases and has removed several boat houses, the grant says.

Nehring said the city knew the site was contaminated when it bought it, and it also knew grants would be needed to move on. The state money will determine chemicals in the soils and the method of cleanup. The money from the feds will help pay for the actual cleanup.

“We need more money. This will just get us started,” Nehring said.

He said how much the cleanup will cost will be determined by what goes there. Some development needs would have to have more cleanup than others.

Nehring said the city spent about $200,000 in federal money to clean up the area just to the East a couple years ago, but that was “minor” compared with Geddes Marina, said Gloria Hirashima, Community Development director.

Hirashima said no matter what goes there drinking water will be pumped in and people will not want to be exposed to the contaminated soil. Across the street at the boat launch soil was cleaned to a point but then the site was capped and clean dirt put over it, similar to what is done to build over landfills.

A key to the success of the area will be finding a use that provides “constant activity.” Hirashima said that is lacking at the boat launch, and that is why homeless have inhabited that area. She said if Geddes Marina becomes more like the skate park it will be successful.

“There used to be a bad crowd there, but the families reclaimed that park,” she said. “We need active usage at a daily rate.”

The consultant will work in two phases. The first to analyze the site, the second to design remedial action and oversight.

The first phase includes cleanup options, community involvement, developer options and market analysis. Cost is $220,000. The second phase includes permitting and working with agencies, the cleanup, oversight and the final report. Cost is $84,000.

Final approval would come from the Department of Ecology.


PHASE ONE – Site analysis

• Presentation to the City Council and Open House for residents.

• Analyze cleanup costs to evaluate potential developer interest and flag areas of risk for the city.

• Analyze physical condition of land, including stormwater, hydrogeological and geotechnical.

• Analyze federal, state, and local land-use and environmental regulations.

• Study local and regional real estate market to look at potential marketing opportunities. That will include cost estimates, achievable rents as well as vacancy rates for competing development sites. The market analysis will ensure that the development vision has a realistic opportunity for implementation.

PHASE TWO – remedial action and oversight

• Work with federal, state, local governments and Tulalip Tribes to obtain required approval and permits.

• Cleanup plan to include approach, sampling strategy, cleanup levels and post-cleanup monitoring.

• Will develop construction bid package that will allow the city to procure a contractor to complete the remedial action.

• Will provide field oversight associated with implementation of the remedial action.

What do you think should be done on the waterfront?