Hillsboro School District set to name new school Atfalati Ridge
When students walk into class at the new elementary school being built in North Plains at the start of the 2021-22 school year, they'll likely have a lot of questions about the name of their school.
That's exactly what teachers, board members, administrators and many community members are hoping for.
On Sept. 22, board members at the Hillsboro School District tentatively selected Atfalati Ridge as the name of the new school located in the Sunset Ridge housing development in North Plains, a rapidly growing area that was slated for a new school following the passage of a $407 million bond in 2017.
The name recognizes the Atfalati people, a Native American tribe also known as the Tualatin or Wapato Lake Indians, who inhabited the plains surrounding the Tualatin River and the hills near what is now Forest Grove for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.
Board members are expected to vote to officially adopt the name at their next regular meeting on Oct. 27, following a 30-day review process.
District officials and community members say the name will prompt students and the wider community to ask questions, learn and remember people whose history has largely been erased after their forced relocation by mostly white settlers.
The board chose Atfalati Ridge as the sole finalist to be the name of the new school after a nearly five-month community engagement and selection process, which board chair Erika Lopez says she was proud to be a part of.
"We're really having these conversations as a nation and as a community around racial justice and what celebrating diversity truly means," Lopez said in an interview. "For the Atfalati people, I think something that's very tragic is that many of the tribes that were here aren't federally recognized tribes. There has been a lot of erasure of these people. I think (the name) is claiming that a little more and reassuring — for the future and for our kids as well — we're not going to contribute to that systemic erasure."
The name received the most support among nearly 900 responses to a July community survey.
More people said they strongly like the name than each of the eight other names selected by a 12-member naming task force made up of teachers, principals, administrators, parents, alumni, students, a local historian and a North Plains city councilor.
Additionally, fewer people said they strongly dislike the name than any of the other names.
The nine names contained in the survey were selected out of 25 name suggestions solicited from the community in May.
The task force reviewed the survey responses and narrowed the list down to four before presenting the final suggestions to the board. The four final names included: Atfalati Ridge, Ridgeview, Sunset Ridge and Sunset View.
Although the name Atfalati Ridge appears to be widely supported, it still received criticism.
Some community members submitted comments to the district saying they wouldn't support the name because students should have a name they can pronounce.
Jaci Spross, the only board member to vote against proceeding with the Atfalati Ridge name, said she didn't support naming the school after any people or person from the beginning for many reasons. She added that she wouldn't vote for the name because doing could also serve to honor problematic aspects of the tribe's history.
"I'm not saying in any way that our native community doesn't deserve to be honored. However, we need to be aware of what we're honoring," Spross said during the Sept. 22 meeting. "Part of the culture that we're talking about honoring by naming the school includes generational slavery of their own tribe members. That's something important that the community and that we need to take very seriously."
Dirk Knudsen is president of the Hillsboro Historical Society and he has been involved in guest-teaching Native American history in Hillsboro Schools for years. He was one of a group of people who submitted the name Atfalati Ridge to the district in May, he said. He has been involved in efforts to name other new public places after Native Americans.
Knudsen said while he isn't aware of the Atfalati enslaving their own people, it's possible because the practice occurred in other tribes. Some publications, including one about the Tualatin people by the Oregon Historical Society, say generational slavery occurred.
Knudsen said he was happy the school district and the community supported the name so much, adding that it is less about glorifying every aspect of the Atfalati and more about using the name as an avenue to teach students about specific local Native American tribes, the ugly history of relocation and what tribes exist today.
"Once we speak the name, hear the name and see the name written down, I'm thinking of how many thousands of times someone will say, 'What does that mean?'" Knudsen said. "Then you have a chance to breathe some life back into the people and the history."
Knudsen said he's aware of the potential for people to see the name, and his suggestion of it as a white man, as cultural appropriation. School board members are aware of that possible perception as well, discussing it at length in their meetings.
Knudsen said it would be a fair critique if the district had not sought and gotten the approval of the name by tribal members themselves.
The Atfalati were forced to leave their historic land and live on the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1856. People who trace their heritage to the Atfalati are members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde today.
David Harrelson, tribal historic preservation officer for the Grand Ronde, wrote an email to the district in late July stating the name would be appropriate for the school. He said he didn't think formal approval of the name would be necessary, adding that it could take a couple of months to receive official tribal approval.
Lopez said she would not feel comfortable naming the school Atfalati Ridge if a representative from the Grand Ronde hadn't voiced support. The district expects Harrelson to speak about the name at a work session next Tuesday, Oct. 13, before the name is officially adopted.
The district also received a letter of support for the name from David Lewis, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and a descendant of the Takelma, Chinook, Molalla and Santiam Kalapuya peoples who currently teaches about the history and anthropology of the region's Native American tribes at Oregon State University.
"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," Lewis wrote in his letter.
Lewis said an adequate curriculum about the Native Americans who lived here has never been present in Oregon schools. He said naming the new North Plains school after the Atfalati would be a perfect opportunity for the Hillsboro School District to improve its Native American education.
"It can be a tool for initiating other conversations about history and identity and what happened in Oregon to the tribes and all these other questions that arise in schools," Lewis said.
Lopez said she and other district officials plan to work with tribe members to expand on how the school recognizes the Atfalati people through curriculum or by other means.
The district has invited the community to a beam signing ceremony at the 73,500 square-foot school, where construction is expected to finish August 2021, from 3 to 6 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 12 and Oct. 13. Lopez and North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan are scheduled to make remarks at 3 p.m. Monday.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the selection of the name is pending final approval. Atfalati Ridge Elementary School is the only name under consideration at present after being chosen as the sole finalist on Sept. 22, 2020.
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