Potlatch Trail runs into hitch with name; American Indians object to inaccuracy

Although plans have been drawn up for the landscaped pedestrian and bicycle path that will pass through lower Queen Anne adjacent to the Seattle Center, there are obstacles to overcome before it is completed. Figuring how to get across Aurora Avenue North is one, while paying for the project is another.
Now, the name of the trail itself has caused a flap with American Indians and has to be changed, according to Margo Polley, a project manager for the Seattle Center.
The name Potlatch Trail came about because an area on Seattle Center grounds used to be called Potlatch Meadow. But when several American Indians and tribes were consulted about the trail project this fall, Polley said they objected that the name was inaccurate.
"It became clear it had been white settlers who had named it Potlatch Meadow," she said. "They called every Native American ceremony a potlatch, which was wrong."
The Potlatch Trail was not just a misnomer, it was quite hurtful and offensive to American Indians, Polley added.
Merlee Markishtum - who works with museum-education programs at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Discovery Park - said she objected to the name three years ago.
At the time, Markishtum was a staff member with the Seattle Arts Commission, which is connected to the trail project because publicly funded art will be a component. She said she asked that another name be considered.
"The potlatch is actually a social kind of thing," Markishtum said. "It's an activity that takes place; it's not an object name."
A potlatch takes place when the host pays guests with gifts to witness ceremonies such as marriages or memorial services, she explained.
Objections to the name were also raised during a design workshop for the trail last February. According to a Seattle web site about the project at www.cityofseattle.net/dclu/citydesign/, one person attending the workshop said, "Let's not make a theme park out of Native American history." Another said not to enhance the name "potlatch" if it was incorrect.
Although altering the name will involve adjusting a number of city documents, Polley promised that when the city comes up with a new moniker, the change will be made.
The new name will be chosen in collaboration with local American Indians and might reflect art components of the trail design, she said. Polley added that the city is leaning toward using the Lushootseed language for the name; potlatch is a Chinook word.
"We're hoping for something that will honor the first folks here," Polley said, referring to the Lushootseed.
The newfound impetus to build the trail came about because it is included in neighborhood plans for the Uptown planning area of lower Queen Anne, for Belltown and for South Lake Union, according to Polley. Those plans were ratified by the Seattle City Council.
"Since then, a lot of departments in the city have been working hard to do neighborhood-plan implementation."
The Pro Parks Levy in 2000 earmarked $700,000 for the trail project, and additional funding will be sought at the state and federal levels.
"We'll be looking at various funding opportunities in 2002," Polley said.
Exactly how much the project will ultimately cost depends on what happens with the Alaskan Way Viaduct. One proposal to replace the viaduct would include a tunnel that would surface farther north than the existing Battery Street tunnel now does.
If that happens, Polley said, the trail could cross Aurora Avenue North at Roy Street at grade, which would be much less expensive than tunneling beneath the arterial as one possibility for the trail proposes.
Polley has high hopes for the design and engineering work on the trail, which is still in the early phase.
"It's going to be a stunning design," she said.
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