OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Olympia City Council voted unanimously to rename Priest Point Park to Squaxin Park to honor the Squaxin Island Tribe.

The Squaxin Island Tribe has occupied the lands in and around the city of Olympia since time immemorial through the Steh-Chass people, according to the tribe. 

"Our people have inhabited this area thousands of years. Some of the earliest archeological items they have found, they have dated to the time of the recession of the glacier," said Charlene Krise, Vice-Chair of the Squaxin Island Tribal Council and Director of the Squaxin Island Museum, Library and Research Center.

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"Even though we don't own the land, we've never stopped having that love for the land," Krise said.

The ancestral lands of the Squaxin Island Tribe were ceded to the United States government in the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek. Only one small island was reserved for the people of the Squaxin Island Tribe to live, according to the Tribe's website.

Priest Point Park was named after a group of Catholic missionaries, the Oblate Fathers, who arrived in modern-day Olympia in 1848. The priests established the St. Joseph d'Olympia mission, which operated until 1860. 

Renaming the park will serve as a reminder that the land the park is located on was home to the Steh-Chass people before it was a mission, according to the resolution text. The land Priest Point Park is located on was an important area to the tribe due to the ready access to fresh and saltwater, abundant salmon from surrounding creeks and rich clam beds. 

The Squaxin Island Tribal Council recommended the name Squaxin Park to the City of Olympia in December of 2021. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee voted unanimously to recommend the park be renamed after hearing public comment on March 17. The recommendation then moved to city council for approval. 

"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," the resolution reads.

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A resolution by the tribe indicates the Tribal Council wants to be involved in naming paths and landmarks within the park.

The Tribal Council recommended references to the Steh-Chass and the People of the Water are included on all of the park's signage written in Lushootseed, a language spoken by many Tribes living in the Puget Sound region.

The Parks and Recreation Department will begin the process to replace wayfinding and rules signs within the park immediately, according to Director of Parks Planning and Maintenance Sylvana Niehuser. The department will work with the tribe on monument signage for the park, which will take a bit longer. 

Niehuser said the department will also look into the federal renaming process to rename Priest Point. 

Squaxin Island Tribal Council Chairman Kris Peters said the Tribe is planning a land blessing in the summer. City council members and the broader community of Olympia will be invited.

"We want to go out there and honor our ancestors in a good way," Peters said.