Long before Gig Harbor, and way before there was a Team Aro, there were the sx̌ʷəbabš (roughly “skwa-bobsh”) people who called this area home. Now, the city of Gig Harbor, and along with them Team Aro, are hoping to better recognize the original inhabitants of our region and help to preserve their ancestral lands. We’re excited to be a part of this endeavor, and we hope that we can do our part to honor our Puyallup neighbors. After all, they are our neighbors, our friends, and in many cases, they’re now our family. Their ancestral heritage deserves to be preserved and recognized as a necessary part of what makes this region so amazing.
Recognizing Our Indigenous Residents
A recently passed resolution by the city of Gig Harbor has renamed a part of the Austin Estuary Park to honor the native Puyallup Tribe. Although the park will retain the simplified “Austin Park” name, the estuary itself has been renamed the Txʷaalqəł (roughly “two-aahl-qeth”) Estuary. Don’t worry if that name is intimidating — it’s simply in the native tribal language of the Puyallup, called txʷəlšucid (roughly “twul-shoot-seed”). Thankfully, the Puyallup Tribal Language Program has a very helpful and informative YouTube channel where these txʷəlšucid words are broken down phonetically and syllable by syllable.
When you know the meanings of these beautiful indigenous words, it becomes quite clear why they make sense for our region. Sx̌ʷəbabš translates to “swift water people” and txʷaalqəł to “place where there is game.” Embracing these indigenous names is just a small part of honoring and recognizing the native peoples of Gig Harbor, Vashon Island, and Maury Island. This fall will also see the opening of the new Swift Water Elementary school!
The history of the sx̌ʷəbabš in our region is tragic. When settlers arrived to begin colonizing the region in the 1800s, the Puyallup saw their population drop from over 10,000 people to just a few hundred due to disease brought by and violence from the settlers. In 1864, there were just 50 sx̌ʷəbabš people left, who had no choice but to relocate to the Puyallup Indian Reservation.
While we can’t change the past, we can make real, tangible steps towards preserving the sx̌ʷəbabš ancestral lands and ensuring that their heritage is not lost to history. The renamed Txʷaalqəł Estuary will be home to several monuments to the sx̌ʷəbabš.
Preserving Ancestral Sx̌ʷəbabš Lands
Team Aro is extraordinarily proud to be able to play a part in preserving a part of the Puyallup ancestral lands in Gig Harbor. There is an 11.5-acre area of land that is of cultural significance to the sx̌ʷəbabš, which is primarily a salmon stream. We are representing the owners of this plot of land, the city of Gig Harbor, and the Puyallup tribe in order to put together this sale and preserve this historical site. This land is currently undeveloped and is just north of the Gig Harbor Wastewater Treatment Plant. This sale would effectively help the city preserve this land, protect the local salmon population, and maintain the land in honor of the Puyallup tribe.
The area of land was set to be developed with new housing, but the City Council of Gig Harbor and the Puyallup tribe, assisted by Team Aro, are working together to purchase and preserve this heritage site. Upon purchase, the native land would become a part of the city’s park system, and there are plans for low-impact trails to be added so that everyone can enjoy the natural beauty of this native land.
A Home for Everyone in Gig Harbor
We’re proud to be working with the Puyallup Tribe and their efforts to preserve their native spaces. Team Aro is committed to helping preserve what it is that makes this part of Washington so special, and that includes the heritage of the native population. To learn more about how Team Aro is working with the Puyallup tribe and the city of Gig Harbor, please feel free to contact us! We’ve been brushing up on our txʷəlšucid, and while we’re not exactly fluent, we can at least learn more about our indigenous neighbors and learn to say hello, or haʔɬ sləx̌il (good day!)