Archive for category People, Institutions, and Groups

Environmental justice tour of Portland, Feb. 3, 2018

Looking southwest from Willamette Boulevard just east of the University of Portland. Mocks Bottom is in the foreground, Swan Island beyond that, and the West Hills of Portland in the background. Feb. 3, 2018.


Luna and I had a fun time yesterday participating in Youth for a Livable Planet’s Environmental Justice Tour of Portland. At four locations on the east side of the city, we learned something about key environmental, social, and demographic changes in the city over the past 15,000+ years. We started at the Moda Center with a grounding in deep geologic history and the history of the Chinookan and Kalapyan peoples. Hopping-on the MAX Yellow Line, we alighted to the Albina Neighborhood, where we got an overview of the history of peoples of color in Oregon broadly and Portland particularly. Vanport was our third stop on the tour, where a representative of Portland Harbor Community Coalition spoke in depth about the creation (1943) and catastrophic dissolution (1948) of Vanport. The fourth station was at the University of Portland, where we had lunch and learned more about the Portland Harbor Community Coalition’s mission “elevating the most-impacted groups (Native Americans, African-Americans/Black, immigrants, and houseless) in the billion dollar federal cleanup of the eleven mile Willamette River ‘Superfund’ site, Portland Harbor.”

This was the second of three such tours the group has planned during the current academic year. This was my first time participating. I did so to have a fun, educational time with Luna and to meet the organizers. I also wanted to get a feel for the structure and content of the tour so I might prepare materials and contribute to the next one, planned for April.



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“A City’s Lifeblood”

Julia Rosen wrote an interesting article for the Oregon Humanities website on the topic of Willamette River cleanup titled “A City’s Lifeblood”  (Aug. 22, 2017). She focuses on an important topic to investigate and document: racial/ethnic issues related to Willamette River and Columbia Slough pollution, including current clean-up and environmental enhancement plans. She had spoken with me a few months prior to publication to learn about the early days of pollution and pollution abatement.

As readers of my book will find, I don’t have much to say regarding the involvement of Native Americans, African Americans, or other non-white individuals or communities in cleanup efforts from the 1920s into the 1970s. This is because my research didn’t uncover anything explicitly on this topic. There are a few reasons why . . .

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My view of the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group meeting, April 14, 2010

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on April 5, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

In a previous post, I reported on a meeting I attended of the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group in December 2009. The present post provides some of my thoughts after attending the April 14, 2010, CAG meeting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Some thoughts on the recent EPA critique of contaminant report from the Lower Willamette Group

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Feb. 10, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are three comments at the original post.]

The information cited below is somewhat reminiscent of the conflict between the City of Portland (CoP) and the Oregon State Sanitary Authority (OSSA) in the late 1950s regarding the city’s inadequate treatment of its sewage. The OSSA (and other abatement advocates such as the local chapters of the Izaak Walton League and the City Club of Portland) were pushing the CoP to implement secondary sewage treatment, because the city’s then-current primary treatment regime was insufficient to ensure adequate dissolved oxygen in and north of city limits. However, CoP leaders (Mayor Schrunk, et al.), balked at making these costly upgrades. So, the OSSA took the city to court and by 1961 forced the city to propose a tax levy and expand their sewage treatment infrastructure.

At least one place where this general pattern breaks down, however, is that pollution related to sewage is significantly less complex to deal with than the current issues with persistent, toxic, and bio-accumulative chemicals.

Ah, makes me wistful for the good ol’ days of floating feces and toilet paper . . .


Scott Learn, “Milestone report on Portland Harbor pollution lowballs risk, EPA says,” Oregonian Jan. 22, 2010, p. B8.

Key excerpts:

“EPA officials say the October report from the Lower Willamette Group prematurely rules out some harbor contaminants as threats to wildlife and overstates uncertainties about the pollution’s risk to human health.”

“The dispute is important: The lower the risks of harbor pollution in Willamette River sediment, the less cleanup work the group’s members and other harbor landowners will have to do.”

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wálamt, wallamat, wolamat, wolamut, Willamette

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on May 14, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are three comments at the original post.]

In doing research for my book, I recently came across Urban Scout’s discussion of the origin of the word “Willamette”. He debunks some myths about the meaning of this word, and concludes:

In remembrance of the Kalapuyan and Clackamas (lower Columbia Chinook) [I]ndians who lived and died here, and in honor of those who still live here; please stop saying “no one lived here.” Please stop saying that Willamette means “the valley of sickness and death.”[1] Please know that if the natives later refered to this valley as one of “sickness and death,” it came from the biological genicide inflicted on the natives by this [i.e., Euro American] civilization. Please go to the library, or better yet find a living native, and learn the real history of this place.

Urban Scout does a great job of sleuthing that includes critiquing “explanations” of the name that do not cite a source and then referencing scholarly works on the topic, particularly Henry Zenk’s essay in the Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 7: Northwest Coast (1990). To add a little to this . . .

Lewis and Clark identified the river we now know as the Willamette as the Multnomah in their journal entries of early April 1806, though the Chinookan word that served as their source refers only to a village on Sauvie Island (/máånumaå/, “those towards the water”).

Henry Zenk finds that trappers and Indians extended the name “Willamette” (also spelled wálamt, wallamat, wolamat, and wolamut) to the entire river and watershed by the time the Pacific Fur Company founded Fort Astoria in 1811. Zenk posits that this is most most likely by way of the lingua franca of the Columbia basin, Chinuk Wawa. Previously, the name appears to have only applied to the name of a Chinook village on the west side of Willamette Falls that had long served as an important center of trading, at least until the large-scale depopulations from malaria outbreaks between 1830 and 1834. Zenk states that we have no definitive record of what the name “Willamette” meant to the Chinooks.[2]
[1] I hadn’t heard this explanation before reading this Urban Scout’s blog.

[2] Henry Zenk, “Notes on Native American Place-names of the Willamette Valley Region,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 109: 1 (Spring 2008), 25-26. See entries for April 2-6, 1806, in Gary E. Moulton, ed., The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001),, accessed May 3, 2010.


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Pollution in Paradise turns 50!

On November 21, 1962, KGW-TV of Portland, Oregon, broadcast the television documentary Pollution in Paradise. Television correspondent Tom McCall produced and narrated this film to draw attention to the problems of air and water pollution in the Willamette Valley and throughout the state.

McCall observed in his narration that pollution was a complex topic intertwining social, political, scientific, moral, economic, and environmental issues, but that these issues were solvable so long as Oregonians actively pursued a balance between economic, environmental, and public health. As McCall narrated,

    Some pollution is inescapable, especially in a society such as ours, whose commercial and domestic demands on water and air constantly accelerate. Thus, some water, for example, must be employed for diluting pollution. But how much, and what priorities should be given this use, are central to a great debate, on which the shape of this region and this nation’s future could well hang.

McCall was a well-known and respected journalist with a background in radio and television and prior service in state government. Many Oregonians lauded the documentary for being a clear, concise, and effective overview of the issues. McCall’s boss at KGW-TV, Tom Dargan, sent copies of the film to educators and state legislators. In January 1963 Dargan broadcast the documentary again to influence state legislators into taking stronger actions in support of pollution abatement. Momentum from the documentary did influence legislators in this way and also contributed to McCall’s election as Secretary of State in 1964 and Governor two years later.

The documentary had this kind of effect because of McCall’s renown and the content of the film. It was also effective because it aired in the midst of other influential works on environmental issues and during the formative period of the development of the television news documentary. Pollution in Paradise aired just a few months after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring appeared in book form. McCall’s film also appeared not long after Edward R. Murrow’s acclaimed 1960 CBS Reports exposé of the agricultural industry’s mistreatment of migrant workers, Harvest of Shame.

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Notable people remembered on a nondescript moss-covered boulder at the end of a rarely-traveled country road

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Nov. 21, 2011. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Izaak Walton League Memorial Plaque, Oak Island Game Management Area, Sauvie Island, Oregon, Nov. 19, 2011. Photo Seth S. Moody.

A few weeks ago, I went a-looking for a plaque in North Portland that was not to be found. A few days ago, my intrepid co-explorer Seth Moody and I braved the wilds of Sauvie Island to find another plaque. I’m proud to report that neither of us were disemboweled by the Sasquatch, and that we achieved our goal (and we have proof!).

The plaque we found was installed by the Oregon Division of the Izaak Walton League on September 14, 1957, to commemorate the life and work of Edgar F. Averill and William L. Finley. Both men were long-time members of the League, long-time active conservationists, and long-time water pollution abatement advocates.

Our trek to discover this plaque was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. In my ongoing research on Willamette River pollution, I have discovered an extensive amount of information about the in-the-trenches work of men and women like Averill and Finley. With every discovery I am increasingly more appreciative of this work, and conscious of these people’s relevance and resonance to the present day. I locate my spiritual center in nature and human consciousness, so, in my interpretation, Averill and Finley are two notable and fully human figures—among many—who illustrate the ways in which real people can take real actions in the real world to effect real and positive changes to benefit present and future generations. In my interpretation, this is precisely the realm of the highest spiritual practice.

I will explain what I mean and ground these men in the real world. Below you will find some details of the lives of Averill and Finley to help explain why their names are glued to a nondescript moss-covered boulder at the end of a rarely-traveled country road in an out-of-the-way place like Sauvie Island. Follow me after the jump . . .

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The 1940 U.S. Census & Willamette River pollution: What’s the connection?

Recently, there have been a few articles in the Oregonian about the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of details from the 1940 census. The Oregonian‘s David Stabler wrote on April 3, 2012:

The 1940 Census, released Monday after 72 years of confidentiality expired, is like a vast shoebox of old photographs and letters discovered in a cobwebbed attic.
Interest in Oregon is high because the state is among the first of five to make the census searchable by names. Volunteers around the country are working quickly to index all 1,086,000 names in the 1940 Oregon census. They expect to finish indexing names as early as this summer.[1]

There is a direct connection between the 1940 U.S. Census in Oregon and the push for clean streams in the Willamette Valley and throughout the state. I’ll make the connection after the jump . . .

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