It has long been the goal for a few of us local historians to have the name of the Native people of our valley remembered in a meaningful way. Despite several attempts to get parks or civic buildings named for the First Nation people, efforts have fallen short. But pending no last-minute changes, the newest Hillsboro elementary school will be named Atfalati Ridge.
The Atfalati people lived happily in the Tualatin Valley for upwards of 20,000 years in a peaceful and natural way. Considered to be the Northern tribe of the Kalapuya people the Atfalati were definitely unique. They survived by traveling across the valley following the harvests of acorns, Camas, and Wapato. They were peaceful and happily traded with the Chinook, Tillamook, Klickitat’s, and others. At one it is believed that the People totaled 10,000 or more.
The arrival of the white settlers of the 1830s spread small-pox and measles killing most of them in a few short years. By 1855 the Atfalati were pushed onto the Grande Ronde Reservation after the 1851 treaty to give them land in the Gaston area was broken, They were a substantial people with many advanced aspects to their civilization.
Through a naming process that we participated in the name went through many rounds of meetings and surveys. With almost 1,000 responses the modern-day people of Hillsboro weighed in as a majority that it was time to honor them. Most locals do not know the name or the story of the people but the more information that was shared about them the more traction the idea received. Tribal members were engaged and the Grand Ronde through their historian supported the nomination.
OSU Professor and Tribal member David Lewis had this to say:
The return of this place name will be momentous for the Atfalati especially when the school district further honors them with programs designed to teach students about their tribal culture and history. I fully support the naming of this facility as Atfalati Ridge School.
The school will sit on an open plain on the East edge of North Plains with views to the South at the Chehalem Mountains. Directly West the view expands to the Coastal Range and to the North are the Tualatin Mountains. Tualatin is a version of the name Atfalati. This land and the timing is totally perfect given what 2020 has dished up so far; a little brightness in a weary world.
So how do we say this name? Well, we turn to tribal scholar and linguist Henry Zenk for that.
The school district offered two opportunities at the school site for locals to stop by and sign a beam that will support the front entrance. I was honored to sign the beam today and left a message for the millennia that was provided to me by Professor Lewis,
The school is graded and framed girders but the plan is a duplicate of the new Brookwood Elementary School in central Hillsboro. The building will be impressive and Jane Siguenza of the HSD let us have a look at a scale model and the site plan. Here is a good look at the impressive design.
Local families stopped by to sign while we watched on this beautiful fall day and we all had a great history lesson. The boys promised to remember what they learned and share the story of the people who stood on this land before they did. It was moving to see relative newcomers listen and learn, being interested in understanding the name, the people, and their lives.
Atfalati Ridge will be open in September of 2021 and dedication ceremonies will include some traditions, members of the Tribe, and a chance for all to celebrate this long-overdue naming! We will make sure to bring you more on this story when that happens.